lonesome highway 2

POSTCARD#396: Bangkok: [Reblog from September 3, 2013]: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the toll way to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope down at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, we might just end up stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine is gone. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world.

“Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]


 

trump and the seventy-one million

POSTCARD#395: Bangkok: He’s gone from my side of the political fence, and without media support he’s nowhere to be found – is the world starting to forget Donald J. Trump? The fear of his predicted pay-back time came and went. His claim of voter fraud proved to be a fraud in itself – all of his plots backfired and everything is now moving slowly towards the exit. Time for a celebration, it’s quiet for the first time in four years. We can ease back from the fear, outrage and hate, and there’s the distinct feeling that the Trump enchantment has vanished from the heart. A new Democratic leadership in agreement with revived Republicanism, can pull the country back from the brink of disaster.

But he’s not gone yet! Whatever he’s saying with Rudy Giuliani, disregard the content and consider the rhetoric of Trump. He poisons the mind. He is toxic. He is hazardous, injurious and ruinous to health. Narcissistic ego-maniacs like Trump, control situations by sending the other person into confusion and dismay. So, if you see him again, pick up the remote, switch off, switch over, or get yourself out of there! Beware of thinking this is the endgame, the last act, just before the bottom drops out of his world and there we are, glued to our television screens. We want closure but instead, we’re getting locked into the hurt again, the pain, the sick feeling. Building up an endurance threshold, and tolerating the suffering unknowingly creates an attachment to it – thus we have an insight into the power he has over people.

The Buddhist in me has to acknowledge Trump is an extraordinary being – I mean what do you give to a kid who has everything? A child who becomes a millionaire at the age of eight? Now after a lifetime of getting what he wants, he must also know everything there is to know about the dark side of desire; bliss becomes irritation in a moment and then it’s a hell realm. He must have tried over and over to modify desire and get it to continue to be what he wants maybe with some success but in the midst of disaster, fury, rage: the First Noble Truth: Suffering, dukkha… start here.

There’s no evidence that Trump ever tried to explore the mind in any wholesome way, he learned about letting go because holding on to what he wanted had to include the things he didn’t want being there too – best not to get unduly attached. He learned about superficialities; forever searching for harmless foolish things, something to obtain, procure, secure –a mood, a good feeling – the culture of consumerism. Always wanting something else, but not able to narrow down the options sufficiently to get what he actually wants. All that remains is the ‘wanting’ itself, hungry and dissatisfied, ungratified desire, in the man who could have anything and wanting the ‘wanting’ to stop doesn’t make it stop, it only increases the level of ‘wanting’. This is the First Noble Truth: Suffering, dukkha… start here.

There is some wisdom he acquired perhaps but Trump is not able to remove the cause of his Suffering because – and this may come as a surprise to some of us, he is a drug addict. I’ve gone through YouTube and I’m convinced, check it out below:

Link: The Prescription President

Making up the seventy-one million who voted for Trump, are various individuals and large numbers of bikers, gun-carrying country boys all of whom found their raison d’etre as Trump followers. A communication network has evolved with Trump as the star. Minders and facilitators fall into place because Trump himself has no qualities of leadership other than a series of well placed one-liners. A support set-up and multi-tasking team do what is required because, according to Michael Cohen, Trump doesn’t actually do anything himself, he has other people do it for him. The planning for what happens next politically is underway, and this is a force to be reckoned with.

In his appearances at these airport rallies, he wears the persona of a fallen angel come down to be with the ordinary folk, bearing wealth and influence to invest in social change (the likes of which we have never seen). He entertains the crowds with theatrical references to ‘the deep state’, uses incidental swearwords; they roar and cheer and he bonds immediately with the mass seventy-one million.

But there’s something in the air… it’s Joe Biden’s demeanor, being calm when answering reporters’ questions. The sense of his being calm is making me calm. But is his ‘calm’ sufficient to quell the coming storm? Does he have the organizational skills to build an entire army of ‘less talk, more action’, just getting on with The Right Thing, and whatever is necessary to bring COVID to an end? In this way, the Trump catastrophe becomes an incentive to do better, very much better – and picking up a few Republicans on the way, open the economy at the right time, in the right way.


 

ridding the mind of Trump

POSTCARD#394: Bangkok: This is a Buddhist (common sense) approach but that doesn’t mean getting rid of him is any easier – Trump has burrowed into our thoughts over the last four years, lurking in the dark recesses of the mind where it’s difficult to get him out. For those of us who don’t know the mind through meditation or who maybe never thought about it before, there may be a perceived fear to be dealt with quickly at first. This has nothing to do with Trump (although he’d like you to think that it has). Practice long easy deep breathing and there’s that awareness of being unsure of it… it’s a familiarity with uncertainty; therefore I know something about that dark place in the mind, I didn’t know before, and I’m not as fearful as I was! 

Fear is created by the heedless accumulation of thoughts joined together any old way, and spiralling up into the mind for no good reason (papanca). Be mindful about fear, ignoring it will only create fear of fear.

One thing I know about uncertainty for sure, is that it isn’t always associated with fear, it’s also associated with joy – uncertainty is what I experience in the moments before receiving a gift, or an award, a discovery, a revelation, enlightenment; any of these kinds of events.

Ridding the mind of Trump is like this, knowing that it is possible and knowing what he is; a comic book character in a TV series; he’s a bit pathetic, the ‘Joker’ in Batman fits the stereotype. He’s not just an entertainer, on some level he poisons everything, he is a force to be reckoned with. He likes to play the part of a thug but we see through it – ‘he’s not a convincing gangster, he is a national disaster.’ (CNN Anchor)

Maybe I think Trump is punishing me because I don’t like him, but that’s not it. He just knows how to play the bad guy, and make me feel like that. The whole thing is an act a piece of high drama, theatre, showmanship … ‘click’ on the remote, and he’s gone. Open the door and chase him out – letting go also of all the causes and conditions that allowed him to come into my mind in the first place. Do it again and again. If I can clean him out of my mind like this, the feeling is one of grateful relinquishment – replaying the story over and over, and taking enough time to experience the immense release that comes from learning how simple it is to get rid of him.

For some of us, it’s difficult to get rid of him completely, be mindful of Trumpian stunts left behind; mindful of the critical mind, conflict, resentment and laying traps for people. Mindful of holding a grudge; mindful of engaging with hate – I need to practice non-hate, thus not caught up in the automatic experience of it.

It’s worthwhile to consider here, an important part of the Buddha’s teaching, Anatta, ‘there is no Self’ (although there is no record of the Buddha ever putting it into these words), rather it’s the sense of ‘I’ that is understated, indirect, and there’s a gentle release of the ‘grip’ on how I (personally) think things should be done, no matter how strong the tenacity of the habit is to hold on.

In this way, there’s no chance of ‘me’ being swept off again today in that Trumpian wave of anger and hurt, because there’s no ‘self’ to whom it’s likely to happen. Therefore, I don’t have to have this edginess of discomfort in the heart today (gratitude for that). The dark cloud of oppression is not hanging over me.

I can see there is suffering (dukkha) in the world, because of the holding on to things we love and hate (or love to hate). If I can focus on my own breathing and let go of whatever it is in my mind that’s causing the suffering then it will all pass away of its own accord.

Compassion for those of us who are holding on unknowingly to the pain and suffering caused by outrageous Trumpist deeds. Let it all go at the first opportunity. All physical and mental events, come into being and dissolve.”

One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it… maybe that’s enough. The focus is on acceptance rather than rejection, loving-kindness for the unloved. Focus on doing the right thing, small acts of kindness.

 “The vastness created these human circuitries in order to have an experience of itself out of itself that it couldn’t have without them.” [Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite]


 

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

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