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.

 

the time of physical death, doerless doing part 6

POSTCARD#377: Bangkok: Another short piece from the revised text of “Heartwood From The Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In this section Ajahn describes our situation when faced with the acceptance of death and the elimination of our contrived needs (self) ‘to have’ and ‘to be’.

Buddhist teachers and scholars over the years have noted Ajahn Buddhadasa’s wider view on religion and spirituality, and his interpretation of Paticca-samuppada. He is/was definitely more than just another ‘loyal to the old traditions’, orthodox Thai Buddhist monk – he was someone truly wise. (Aj. K.)

Section 3. How to practice at the time of physical death.

The mind is extinguished and the body breaks up and dies, it is old and has reached its end. This is to have fallen from the ladder. As you fall from the ladder, you leap on to the practice of remainderless extinction. This is done by establishing in the mind the feeling that nothing is worth having or being.

Those who are old and unlearned, but for whom death is something definite and sure, can depend on taking remainderless extinction as their basic principle. The mind then will hold no hope of having or being anything at all. The phrase ‘absence of hope’ may be used in regard to the attainment of arahantship, not the resignation of the foolish and lazy – that’s a different matter altogether. It is this absence of hope of one who with true wisdom sees that there is nothing in this or any world that one should wish to have or be. Truly nothing is worth having or being at any time or at any place. There being no desire to have or be anything, the mind dissolves into emptiness.

When the time of death arrives let this feeling be present. You should remember that close to death the mind will gradually slip away. As the body runs down nearing its end, consciousness will gradually disappear. You will forget more and more until you forget everything. You won’t know what time it is, whether it’s day or night; you won’t be able to tell where you are or whose house you’re in, you won’t even be able to remember your name or your family. But the way for you to stay as the companion of the mind until the end is to be aware that nothing is worth having or being.

Volunteer for the remainderless extinction! Let that feeling of volunteering for the remainderless extinction, that readiness to accept it and be a partner of the mind until the very end. With this skillful means the mind will be able to dissolve itself into the emptiness that is Nibbana. This is the practice at the moment of physical death for those of little knowledge. With it an unlearned grandma or grandpa can reach the final extinction. We call it the skillful means of turning a fall from a ladder into a measured leap.

In the event of accidental death, such as getting run-over by a car, having a building collapse on top of you, being gored by a bull or getting blown up by an atom bomb, what should you do? If there is even a tiny amount of awareness left in that moment, resolve on the remainderless extinction. Through having previously developed the feeling that there is nothing worth having or being, until it is completely fluent and natural to you, on reaching the moment of death, you will be able to bring it to mind for a split second before the end. For example, someone run-over by a car doesn’t die immediately there is always an interval even if it’s only a fraction of a second or a single thought-moment, and for the flash of feeling resolving on remainderless extinction that is plenty of time.

The sublime Dhamma not only provides an infallible protection when faced with an unnatural death, dying but not wanting to die, dying unexpectedly, but can also provide Nibbana right there at the wheel of the car, beneath the collapsing building, at the horns of the bull or in the pile of bodies charred by the atomic blast. There is no violent unnatural death, instead there is Nibbana.

It is interesting to consider the way that people in the time of the Buddha prepared for death. For those who kept the Precepts of Virtuous Conduct, fasting was not at all difficult because they were used to abstaining from an evening meal on Uposatha days (The full-moon and dark-moon days when laypeople would come to the monastery and keep the Eight Precepts of Virtuous Conduct). When their illness reached the point that they felt that they had no more than ten days left to live they would stop eating and taking only water or medicine. As death got closer, they would stop taking even water or medicine in order to focus their mindfulness and self-awareness, so as to die in the way of remainderless extinction.

Unlike the people of the Buddha’s time, people today usually look for the most comfortable bed, the most comfortable room, the most expensive foods and medicines, and then die with a great fuss. They want to go on living, to put off their death even if it’s only for a single minute. They start having all sorts of injections and treatments and die with no mindfulness or self-awareness. It is the action of delusion.

/continued in doerless doing part 6b/


[Photo: A simile from the Pali scriptures (SN 22.95) compares form and feelings with foam and bubbles.]

meditation and a dentist’s drill

POSTCARD#368: Bangkok: Practically no traffic in Bangkok on my first day out – clear blue sky because there’s no pollution. I’m going to the dentist, and fortunate that I’m able to share in a car with two other friends and a driver, all of us wearing face masks, venturing out for the day. Wonderful to be back in the outside world and I send best wishes to blogging friends in the UK and US, who are stepping out today, as the car seems to leap across empty Thai highways.

Almost nothing of my UK ‘self’ remains. I have a sister, the other chick in the nest. Also gratitude to our cousin who tries to keep the strands of family together. The others… all gone in the passing years, and all that I’m inclined towards is in my Thai family and the monks I’ve spent time with – Theravada Buddhism Ajahn Chah lineage.

Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away for a meditational moment; just the in-breath, the out-breath, but I can’t continue because thoughts of the dentist come crashing into mind. You may be surprised to know however that she’s a very good-looking lady, dazzlingly perfect teeth to smile by, and this makes the pain easier to bear. Also, I have to say they are generous with the Lidocain needle there, I haven’t experienced any pain after the needle goes in during the many extended restructure sessions I’ve had in the chair. Maybe also the meds I take for headaches combine with the dental painkillers and these contribute to a painless experience.

So I get to the building, up in the elevator and check in with the receptionist. Sit for a while in an empty waiting area, thinking of my old dentist in Switzerland, 18 years ago, who told me about stress and depression among dentists, and he did have a few personality quirks. I googled the subject and found the suicide rate of dentists is more than twice the rate of the general population. September 1, 2007 Randy Lang. DDS, D.Ortho

Then I’m escorted to the dentist’s room. Undo my mask as I enter and “Hello, how are you”, greeting also the dentist’s assistant, who seems less beautiful but happy enough with the way things are.

The Dentist is absolutely stunning, dressed in her PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) she has a mask and a face guard with shower cap covering her hair. Movie-star painted eyes, but it’s the whole body covering that gets my attention; it’s clear smooth plastic, not wrinkled as we see in the busy COVID-19 wards, and… it looks like it’s been made to measure?

Beneath that is a tight fitting white plastic suit with a black belt and she’s wearing white high-heeled shoes – very high, with slender heels. A vision of dental loveliness… she sees me watching and does a little-girl twirl, I think: should I say “cute” or otherwise remark on her costume. But I can only smile and that’s convincing enough because I am genuinely surprised.

Are there any traces of a personality disorder here, I wonder, remembering the google texts about Stress in Dentists:

“When performing dental procedures that evoke patient fear and anxiety, dentists experience patterns of physiological stress responses that parallel the patient’s responses.”

Seems to me it would be hard not to, being so close, head to head with a reluctant and disinclined patient.

Another factor is people just don’t like going to the dentist, evidenced by the frequency of missed appointments. Nobody wants to visit the dentist and it’s the last place they want to come back to.

In my case it’s different, I’m in a mesmerized state. We continue with the opening pleasantries, as I sit down in the fearful chair which sinks to a lower level that raises my feet slightly higher than my head – it seems very comfortable to me and I tell the dentist this, thinking I have to be nice to this lady who may have a personality disorder, and she’s hiding a razor sharp drill somewhere which is going into my mouth – no escape now.

Her assistant covers my upper body with these heavy green hospital linen covers and puts one over my whole head that has a round hole in the centre. I found it disarming and claustrophobic the first time but I’m used to it now. She adjusts the position of the hole and does an examination of my mouth, indicates that it’s all good, and starts numerous injections to block off an entire area on the right side

After that, I’m raised up to the normal sitting position, while we wait for the Lidocain to numb the jaw. I take the conversation further by asking how long she’s had a dentist practice here in this location. She tells me it’s been 11 years and likes the process very much. Then she says: “I was in the US for five years”. I understand her to mean she studied there and prefers the American way of operating a dental practice, therefore the Thai way seems really old fashioned to her. I think she thinks I’m American and therefore I should respond in a welcoming, member-of-the-family, ‘warm hug’, in a manner of speaking but I don’t know how to do that, coming from Scotland as I do, ancient and remote. Even though I feel like I should have been able to respond better than I did.

Sometime later in the sequence of time we were talking about something else I can’t remember exactly and “I was in the US for five years”, she says, unaware that it’s the second time she’s said this. Is she, a Thai person, so deeply acculturated in all things American, she has to tell me about it? It was difficult to see how this could be, having lived in Thailand for 35 years with its ups and downs – 5 years seems like such a short time to me.

I wasn’t able to figure out how best to deal with this. A big smile will suffice – anyway it was time to get down to business and she sends my chair back into that devastating lower position, it seemed to me now, where the drilling begins.

No choice, settle into a space in my being, and try to accept these fierce sounds. The dentist’s drill is a fearsome thing as we all know. it can change from high speed: tee-ee tee-ee to low speed: bhrrr-bhrr bhrr-bhrr and variations on that: bhaaa-bhee, chugga chagga, daaa dit daaa dit daaa!

The dentist’s assistant takes charge of all the sucking devices she holds in place in a way that obstructs the movement of the tongue and drains the blood or liquid or water from another device crammed into place leaving enough space for the Hollywood dentist to do her drilling.

Everything to do with my mouth is seen through the round hole, I’m aware of some movements in the darkness. An overwhelming experience if you’re not used to it, now trying to embrace these intense sounds as my jaw is being carved into a new shape. There’s a natural tendency to escape from the body. Then the attempt at meditation starts.

The sound and vibration is hostile and shocking and pulls my attention back into what is immediately present, I can’t find a balance at first… I feel confident enough about the painkillers, about how effective the headache meds are, but the vibration is traveling through every bone in my body. It’s possible for the first time in my life to ‘see’, to be aware of my skull and skeleton. Maybe I can be confident about the full extent and the limitations of the experience; the drilling sounds, the pushing and tugging. I know this and I know Consciousness is vast. This realization just tumbles out. For a few moments the drilling sound and scale or scope of the issue becomes smaller and smaller, less and less important.

After that I’m able to find a place up and above my head and focus on staying there, as all the unexpected jabs, jerks and vibrations shake my whole body. The dentist’s assistant pulling on one side of my mouth and the dentist shoving and tugging the other side. My awareness has to include having to deal with the gag reflex and involuntary swallowing – all this can be going on because there’s enough awareness to go around. I can stay in this space up and above, and contemplate the experience as if I were in a barrel being tumbled down a rocky hill road, and other images.

The chair is moved up and the drilling is over, now to take an impression. Liquid rubber material is spread inside both upper and lower jaws. I clench my teeth together and have to hold it for 3 minutes. This provides me with a sudden quiet time… up and above in the space where I was meditating, there’s a golden glow. If I focus on it, the glow expands; it’s unintentional and spontaneous. The golden glow is sending out warmth and happiness, an entirely unintended action spreading outwards and everywhere.

Sadly it’s interrupted by the dentist, green covers removed, moving along now. Put the mask on, fix the next appointment, and it’s time to say Bye-Bye.

Down from the 6th floor and the driver is at the car-park level getting a stamp on his entry ticket. We pick up our two other passengers and out over the deserted highways again. I feel liberated and glad the next dental appointment is not for a month and the remains of the golden glow is with me.


The Thai Government reported three new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Sunday, May 10, 2020 with a total of 2,969 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths since the outbreak began in January

consciousness

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#355: Bangkok: Struggling to read my own handwriting as if it were written by someone else. Here and there, references to consciousness, the original sources not included – not thinking that one day I’d return here and want to know these sources. No time maybe, everything was in a rush. The energy in these old pages is noteworthy; scribbled thoughts, often not in any understandable word order, refer to a past I don’t remember. Years spent contemplating impossible things, and barking up the wrong tree completely. And all of that led up to this. It never occurred to me that I was finding parts of the framework of a greater Truth.

…not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean!

Compassion for those who are caught in suffering; those who think life is only greed, hatred and delusion – or maybe so immersed in delusion they don’t think anything!

“In our reluctance to open to the possibility of another way of life; how to be completely alive, we prevent ourselves from dis-identifying with anything other than our conditioned states of mind. We will forever remain hypnotized by what our minds have absorbed from the outside world. We will remain a puppet of the society that has reared us.”

Caught in continued habituality, in cyclical existence; paired bully and victim etc. [see patisandhi]

This is where the Buddha’s Teachings enter. In meditation, the thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… no remainder – so, I can see now I had understood most of that but ‘no remainder’ I’d not investigated? The ‘remainder’ is consciousness, but what is consciousness? It’s a good question. Consciousness is without limitation so it can take whatever form. I’m thinking of words like universal, all-pervading, ever-present, omnipresent. Consciousness is the mystery all through the centuries – there’s so much more to be said about this.

Consciousness is everywhere and everything, to the extent that ‘everywhere’ and ‘everything’ are included in consciousness. It’s like a wave in an ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see, has suddenly swept up these small words, and they’re gone.

The self has no form, you cannot see it, you cannot grasp it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “ Ah there it is! “ Because who is saying that? You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object external to yourself, it’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing. You are the consciousness behind the seeing.

The paragraph above [no source] is the one that does it for me. I think I didn’t read the words properly the first time through. In my mind, I’d assumed consciousness had the same meaning as awareness, so when I read “You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’”, I was proven wrong and thus the ground beneath my feet gave way.


“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.” — SN 56.11

 

ordinary epiphany

POSTCARD#353: Bangkok: The arrival was in a cramped poky little ambulance – even here, the ignominy of it, everything is always too small for me. This could be my final hours and I’m preoccupied with the claustrophobic environment. Despite these difficulties, I’m aware the nurse is trying to comfort me in my condition; a wild compulsive shuddering, quivering and twitching of an out-of-control body. In fact there was no pain, breathing was unrestricted and it looked worse than it was.

Anyway it was all lights flashing, and the multi-sound-signal siren going full blast when we arrived at the hospital. I got unloaded on a gurney, and next thing I’m in a pool of bright light and they’re searching for a vein, difficult as it is with my tiny little veins but prolonged due to this out-of-control body twitching and shaking. I tell the doc sometimes I can control it in my mind. She asks me to hold it in place for a moment. I can do it… then the full choreography of twitching takes over. Sometime around here, they must have gotten the vein and thus I was zonked out of the picture.

I wake up, and the twitching has gone. I’m in bed wearing green hospital backwards facing night-wear and the world seems very far away – except for the presence of the catheter in the urinary tract and two large bags of fluid dripping into my veins every few seconds. It tells me I’m trapped in this hospital room for the time-being, and I have to come to terms with that.

There’s somebody in the room talking to me but I can’t understand what she’s saying, or see her face clearly – it’s all mumbles in a kind of darkness. I attempt to get out of bed but this elicits mild admonishments, and restraints .

For the next four days I discover a new resolve, unknown to me in any other context. From time to time I’m overwhelmed in a kind of holy light – my born-again Christian cousin in Scotland would be delighted – but for me the Holy Father of the West is not relevant after more than thirty years in the East. It can’t be spoken, ‘it’ is not an ‘it’. Saying ‘it’ is an ineffable presence overstates it even.

It was following this way of thinking that enabled my recovery, bit by bit. The problem had been my low sodium level and the pain-meds for my headache got thrown in the mix. That was Lyrica and now, no longer part of my menu – I’m searching for the way out of my pain, always. Maybe I can manage with a few extra 300s of Neurontin. It’s a case of try it and see and that concept of existential monitoring applies in my case in all kinds of ways.

“Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.

You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.

Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11

 

mindfulness of pain, part 2

POSTCARD#338: Chiang Mai: Now three months since the event in November of last year, and the recovery from that blow to the centre of the chest, delivered like a heavyweight boxer’s punch – devastating. This is what it felt like. What happened was, around 9pm I was going through the crowds on Nimanheman Road with my Thai niece M, in the almost daylight brightness of studio lights suitable for taking selfies out on the street I suppose. Flashing illuminations distracted me and I stumbled on something in the darkness of a shadowy stretch of unsurfaced sidewalk, lost my balance and fell forward like a tree is felled in the forest. Broke a rib somehow, but the main thing was, I did something to the sternum, (the sternum is that vertical bone in the centre of the chest). This bone took the impact of the fall – I fell diagonally on a concrete step, hands held out to break the fall, but as the floor comes rushing up to meet me, it’s the step that takes the weight BANG!

I’m face-down on the step – small Asian hands reach out to help me get up. M leans forward and says in my ear, “Toong Ting, do you want me to call an ambulance?” I tell her I’m okay, (so practical, M is. She is 14 now and dyed her hair canary yellow, but that’s another story). Also thank you and smiling to all these kind people (note: real concern, anxious faces), more hands held out to help me get back to where I once belonged… the realm of all upright, upstanding, decent, and respectable persons.

What does this look like? Old guy with wispy white beard sinks down in the crowd, has a stroke or something? Falls on the rough un-surfaced sidewalk. No, no, I’m okay, just tripped, slipped, tumbled, stumbled, fumbled? I’ll be allright, thanks for your help, it’s okay – I’m getting some of their anxiety. Best stand up, no matter how inviting that unsurfaced sidewalk looks like a nice place to lie down and get comfortable. No, no, and I start moving around, to reassure everyone that this old guy escaped the clutches of gravity once again.

We made it back to the apartment without me feeling any pain, but next day the agony in the chest was something to behold. The breath-taking scale of it… just turning over in bed would throw me into a trauma of panic, difficult to find the way out of. Ordinary things, like getting up from the sitting position were so overwhelming I’d stay seated for most part of the day.

Meditation was/is a necessity, I had to develop skills fast for this 24 hour, no-choice pain situation. Almost always at night, when sleep would find me seeking a position or a place somewhere, somehow, something bearing the characteristics of rest, and following the pathways leading to a comfortable place to be in, to inhabit for a few hours and the easefulness of that, but not to dwindle there or linger too long, lest it becomes something impossible to extricate myself from – all these tugs and pulls that mindfulness uses to remind us where the Path leads.

Then as far as possible, a quiet investigation into the pain, and the reaction to it, again and again. Contemplation over the breath-taking scale of it; what to do? not much more than that, but by the end of January, I came out of it with a greater awareness of this part of the body… in the East it’s the Chit, the heart, the mind. The idea that identity was situated in the Brain didn’t make sense at all

What’s happening to me? Examining the X-ray of the broken rib I could see all the other broken ribs fused together any old way (this is how they mend themselves), bits sticking up where there shouldn’t be, and seen so clearly because they’re all on the same side of the body. Four broken ribs which occurred separately are all on the left side?

What kind of karma could this be; the ribs, the blow to the center of the chest, and the long surgical scar in the abdomen where a Thai surgeon removed two cancer tumors in the colon more than twenty years ago, and lastly, my Post Herpetic Neuralgia in the right occipital nerve, feels like a blow to the head, never gets better, a permanent headache. It’s all just so intrusive, so violent, how can this be? As far as personalities go, I’d say and others would agree, I’m not a violent person! Doesn’t make sense, karma like this is surely irredeemable!

Ajahn Vajiro was passing through town the other day so we met him at the airport and I asked him about these traumatic circumstances, and what to make of this strange karmic outcome? He shook his head saying, never mind about that, get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know.

Examples: poo ying: lady, poo chai: man.

You could say poo roo is the higher self, except that it’s a personification, which brings us back to the subject/object divide. What was meaningful for me was how Ajahn began articulate the blessings the Four Brahma-Viharas, while explaining the quality and meaning of the words:

1) Goodwill / Metta, Loving kindness.

2) Karuna / Compassion, is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop.

3) Mudita / Empathetic joy), what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.

4) Upekkha / Equanimity)

The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s words still remain in present time, everything about who I am, disappears for an instant and there’s only awareness. I experience this awareness physically, in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. Felt exactly in the same place where the huge punch in the chest happened… curious and strange, best left alone, unsaid, unexamined, and questions unanswered do not create the subject/object divide. Thought and language are the apps, while awareness is the operating system. It comes before anything else, here in the centre of my being.

Awareness precedes thought. As soon as I think about it, the whole thing becomes duality, subject/object. This time, I’m inclined to take it further, and that awareness (object) is ‘me’ (subject), ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am the subject of awareness. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be ‘me’, starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

There are many ways that this metaphor can be constructed. Please let me know how it looks in the comment box.

T

hidden in plain sight

img_0006bPOSTCARD #234: New Delhi: Traffic comes to a standstill, fierce displays of male feathers in ritual acts of outrage, shouts and gestures through wound-down windows. Eyes sparkling with diamonds of malice… but even this settles down. Things aren’t ‘held’, the silence of no-thought is possible. At least for me in the back seat of the car, disengaged, conscious only of sensory awareness in a body/mind world. It’s not meditation; I just have to remember to not be caught in thought stuck in the traffic jam of Mind.

Particularly these days of push and shove, and the fierce, blunt Donald Trump intrudes with his collection of body-slam syllables that make up a name which rhymes with: bump, lump, rump, thump, sump. The strategy of devil’s-advocate one-liner tweets, “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”, make it necessary to wake up and feel the urgency of mindfulness – this politician has extended reach. Be aware of puzzle-headedness. Stay poised, balanced and alert.

Otherwise, in forgetfulness, I may go back to stir the ashes of defeat; return to that place of locked-in conditioning, reading pedagogy of the oppressed, the myth of freedom and other demons itch like a skin irritation you have to scratch. Isn’t it remarkable that outrageous remarks, in-your-face disregard and proud indifference wins the Presidential race… what does this tell you? Pre…tty scary. I need to remove myself from here, forget I ever knew such a thing was possible. Turning a blind eye? No, it’s not that. What I’m scared of is the unspoken denial, “I see no ships”, (Horatio Nelson turns a blind eye at the Battle of Copenhagen). People know they’re expected to turn a blind eye – not turning a blind eye is to be labeled conspiracy theorist. I try to stay free of what all this means, meditation is about the skill of staying with the feeling of all the tugs and pulls of it demanding attention, but undisturbed and steady – just letting the mind unstick itself.

In the East the world is an illusion; a discussion point that goes back at least three thousand years. There’s only the quality of experience, nothing else. Gone is the ground beneath our feet, there never was anything there in the first place. The opposite of how it is in the West where we are embedded in the illusion, overlay upon overlay, believing it’s real and uneasy, of course, about the intuitive feeling that it’s not. As a rule, politicians speak with forked tongue; doctors say there’s something wrong with you, take this medicine. There’s no one else to turn to, so we’re feeding the craving of the mind with consumables to quell the fear… but it’s never enough.

Thus we arrive at the core of the illusion itself: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” (Adolf Hitler, große Lüge). A sleight of hand (this must be when I pretend to not see it), and before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, the Truth is hidden in plain sight… now you see it, now you don’t – those not turning a blind eye fall into a yawning chasm wherein everything is sucked away not held on to with tenacity of grip, as with all things inexorably lost, Amen Or, a better idea, you can disappear off the grid and become a Buddhist.

The traffic is moving now, engines starting up, and we are on our way. I console myself with the thought that there’s a possibility DJT will root out the bad guys hidden in the woodwork for decades, albeit for the wrong reasons, he and his cronies will just take their place, but somewhere in there we will stumble upon a revelation and things take a turn for the better…


 

astonishment

pigeons3bPOSTCARD #231: New Delhi: Trumpets blare, the sharp impact of it hits immediately, a cloud of birds fly up in a flutter of uncertainty. Trees splash outwards in branches, twigs, leaves, blossom and seed. Astonishment… how could this have happened? Eyes open wider and wider, like a camera aperture opening so far it exceeds structural integrity, implodes, buildings collapse in controlled demolition made to seem like a natural disaster, the ground beneath us opens up in sinkholes. Words explode into fragments of meaning… thus, the un-expect-ed-ness of this unnerving turn of events.

Curtains open on the First Act. Enter, stage right, the President of the Disunited States, Hollywood version of narcissistic Third World dictator, well-dressed gangster with his carefully balanced coiffure and infrastructure of war, catastrophe, greed, hatred and delusion – a victorious returning to power, with paid-for breathless wave of applause. Financial Advisors grab all the wealth stolen by the Bank (who knows, maybe it’s the same family), memories of Geo Dubbya, the fall of the twin towers, the war in Iraq and weapons of mass distraction. Fear, lies and distrust in Government. How can I find stability in all this, how to let go of this dark uncertainty?

When all else fails, the Buddha’s subjective damage-repair comes into play. Rediscover the natural ability to relinquish, give way to, put aside and desist from – difficult perhaps because we are not skilled in the act of surrender. But in these circumstances of adversity we can look for the muscle that’ll release tenacity of grip, jaw clench…. Let it go, watchful too that nothing might be indirectly fanning the flames in the process, such as: I don’t want it to be like this, because wanting it not-to-be-like-this is difficult to disengage from.

Do not hold on to it, let it go… and suddenly I’m not thinking about the “why” of things anymore, just sitting quietly here, watching the in-breath/out-breath. I might want to take immediate action but the wisdom (and effectiveness) of this is to learn how to wait and see. Go against all the urges to have your cake and eat it too. Intelligent control over the energy of thought… and when there’s an opportunity, seek for a place in the middle ground. Find equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, the balance, the midway point. Find a temporary abiding there and cultivate the inward disposition to give, to have compassion for, generosity, kindness, gladness.

I understand how everything fits together today up here on the roof terrace with flowering plants in the sunshine, birdsong and a clear blue sky. I can see the compelling, driven-greed in the world. I can see how to be free of it too. People are caught unknowingly in all kinds of habitual, seek/find instant gratification. Everything, everywhere, consumerism, schooling, television, the media encourages this hunger that doesn’t lead to satisfaction but to an even sharper edge to appetite. These are the ways of the enemy.

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron” [H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920]

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Photo by Melinda [melindaruck.com]

knowing knows knowing

IMG_2910bPOSTCARD #205: DELHI: … like suddenly waking from a dream, an unfinished story and something just happened – so fast that everything is out of sync, skips a beat. It’s because I’ve been unknowingly holding this pain in my head that’s now breaking through and the holding is not as important as the getting away from it… this is not happening to me! With that recognition, suddenly there’s no ‘me’ to whom this pain is happening just the velocity of it, like a wind storm and I’m lying flat in the grass as it passes over.

Some time after that, having taken my meds and the pain is now walled off in a corner of the head, I’m sitting in a straight-backed chair, just to see how that feels. Breath enters the body like a wind gusting in, withdraws, comes back, blows through everything then it’s not there again. Focus shifts to a great emptiness opening up – opening and opening… I might easily believe this will never end, but moving along with it to see what the next thing is. The purpose of my life is the on-going experiential response to the impact of sensory contact – what else could it be about? Skin, muscle, flesh, and these mysterious organs held by ligaments bonded into a skeletal structure. It’s as if there’s an electrical charge in there, sparks flying out. I am the context for the outer content. The whole investigation is one that is open to following where the knowing of it leads, see where it’s going, how it reacts. Conscious awareness of how the mind is able to concentrate and to what extent – passageways of insight open in an instant and a great flood of things to think about pours in.

Thought sequences and memories become apparent when they reach the point of “being”… before that they’re in the uncreated state – arbitrary, disassociated. Things don’t exist at all, until I observe them. There’s the Observer Effect in quantum physics, the experiment showing that when one is observing the movement of electrons it changes their behavior. In Buddhist thought, the ‘observer’ is not the ‘self’ but the self-construct arising from responses to sensory input via the Five Khandas. Received data is formed according to the mechanisms of the human sensory process – including cognition, which is a sense like all the others, and the great dome of sky above. Mindfulness is a returning to that place where I see how things change through my engagement with them…

‘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]

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Note: excerpts from an earlier post titled: ‘it’. Photo: Buddha rupa on the my working desk and the view of the garden

voice-over

IMG_3377POSTCARD #198: THAILAND: Arrived in Bangkok, then a small propeller plane to Hua Hin, 41 mins flight, ninety miles down the coast. Unaware of the Brussels bombings we walked on the beach, no people anywhere, where’d everybody go? Came upstairs to our room on 6th floor, switch on TV and there it was; the Brussels Bombings filling our hotel room from nearly ten thousand miles away. We were stunned by the coverage; BREAKING NEWS, coming to you live from CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN reaches the whole of the US, and as far West as Pacific Islands and Japan. Then the other way from Atlanta, all countries in South America broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese, East through Europe in all languages including Arabic and the whole continent of Africa. On through Asia to Australia who are so far down-under, the rest of the world is up-over to them. CNN facilitates this news and within minutes, the bombs in Brussels are exploding all over the world.

FullSizeRender (5)We wake up the next day and it’s the same thing, the assumption is that many people in the world haven’t heard the news yet. At breakfast there are developments that seemingly, we need to hear about, also in-depth analyses of what happened and why, with experts discussing it – showing the same footage with voice-over and the production beginning to take a particular form. But we can’t pay much attention to it, busy with getting ready for our walk along the beach. Understandable really, I think, being the only white guy here. Brown people over here and everywhere with black hair and dark eyes, who are not Americans but the majority of the world’s population, puzzled and a bit embarrassed by the CNN presentation. Inclined to ask what caused the extremists to do such a thing? Sorry but that’s the wrong question… CNN is broadcasting its opinion in all countries of the world, stepping into everyone’s lives and figuratively speaking blasting everyone with the aftermath of the bombings using the dismay, distress, and consternation as a vehicle to convey the consensus point of view.

My niece M who is 12, asks me ‘Why?” I have to provide a satisfactory answer, but the same ‘why?’ follows me and my explanation. Then the extended form: ‘but why?’ all the way through my reasoning as we get into the elevator and she stops asking only when we reach the bottom, running out and down to the sea. Our early morning walk along the sand, and again we are the only people there, leaving a trail of footprints and the only others are those of the birds, M running ahead stopping to take close-up photos with my phone and her ‘why?’ more concerned with why do the footprints look as if they’re embossed on the surface, relief sculptures, rather than hollowed in the sand, strange – once you see it that way it’s difficult to see it the other way.

M footprintsBack up to the hotel room and the show must go on. Intense music, bright red colors and talking heads appear. They seem to ask and answer questions but the dialogue has been scripted. Frightening scenes of devastation from an on-the-spot location in the danger zone while we are in a safe place at home, made to feel like voyeurs at the battle scene: ‘This is coming to you live’ yes but it’s an act, rehearsed, decided on by an editorial team  who take advice from those obscure unseen advisors making decisions, about how the facts should be portrayed.

The dialogue looks spontaneous, and informative (I’d like to be a fly on the wall of these studios and see how much of an act this really is), welcoming the invisible third party, that’s us, the part we play as passive listeners mesmerised by the act, struggling in a bewilderment of feelings, holding on to this induced attachment to TV that we’re kinda comfortable with anyway and only later realise that by passively acknowledging this version of events, we are committed to seeing it that way.

CNN is now established ‘in the danger zone’, with easy-to-understand explanations and we allow the hypnosis to deepen by passive acceptance of it entering our living rooms – George Orwell’s 1984 propaganda TV reassures the population it’s all being taken care of by those who know what to do, although the threat of it continues. We know there’s something happening, it’s as if it were orchestrated, quite obvious really, but somehow hidden. Curious why we allow it to be there, but we feel we’re already committed to the CNN point of view, and that rewarding, induced, comforting mind-state takes over as we fall into our places in front of TV.

IMG_2852The next day I go into Google and find it has a Wikipedia entry already. Still there’s the question: why are these Islamic extremists targeting us? Could it be that it’s the result of something we did to them? Sorry but there’s something wrong with that question. History is made by those who won the war.

I’d like to explain to M how this illusion is constructed but cannot. So I’ll just have to hope she’s has a good enough grasp of English soon so she can read this post sometime and understand it after I’m not around any more.

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Photos:  view from our hotel room at the top and the others are footprints made by a bird and M’s footprints as she studied the image on the screen that made it appear to be embossed on the surface.