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

COVID-19 Vesak Day 2020

POSTCARD#367: Bangkok: Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, a forgetfulness of holding on to things… an easing away, then it all falls backwards into space. It’s the best part of the day for me; that smooth slide into sleep. I take a mix of Norytriptiline and Remeron in very small amounts. It works like a sleeping pill, but is in fact a pain killer. The sleep aspect of the drugs is so good, I sometimes wake in the morning and the body is in the same position it was in, the night before – practically no movement during the night.

The rest of the 24 hour period is not so peaceful, a headache and dry mouth, like a hangover when I wake in the morning, of course not caused by alcohol because it is dangerous to take that with the other drugs on the menu. So, I do a set of simple asanas on the yoga mat next to the bed. Then the shower and things start to clear up with the first dose of the main drug after breakfast. There are times when the meds put the headache away completely for most of the day, and that’s good except for the cloudy brain, things not being clear. Other times the meds put it away only for an hour or so…. sometimes the meds don’t seem to work at all and the uncertainty of this is a huge challenge.

An example of contemplating physical pain with Wise Reflection is the Buddha – remembered today, May 6, 2020, Vesak Day. [click on the link for more info] The Buddha would have looked long and hard at his pain condition, as I do now after 5 years of the headache. It interests me and makes me happy to have this small insight into the Buddha’s pain. The same for all friends here in the blogging world who suffer permanent pain, orthopedic or neurological or both.

I listened to the Vesak Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Kalyano. Ajahn talked about the years the Buddha studied ascetic practices (self-induced pain), his body was skin and bone and eventually he abandoned this practice because the center of focus was now on the Kilesas (Defilements), Greed, Hatred, and Delusion (sounds like a heavy metal band). These three Kilesas can be sourced, analyzed and contemplated with Wise Reflection today.

Ajahn also said that it may be helpful to think of all the many and various aspects of the Kilesas as a virus embedded in the body and Mind – a suggestion that Covid-19 may be contemplated in this way. Lastly, Ajahn referred to the BBC 70s video of an interview with the King of Thailand Bhumibol Rama 9 who passed away October 13, 2016 – not so long ago. The interviewer asked if the King believed in Original Sin. The King replied no, he believed in Original Purity. Ajahn Kalyano said this was an insightful reference to the practice of contemplation of the Kilesas.

The past never gets old, always brought into present time, revealed again as an event remembered, with characters acting out the part as we recall it. It can be steps we take to be free of the old conditioning. It can be a memory or an image held in the mind refreshed over and over that gives us support in some way. An image of the Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, or others…

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisattva, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, par101, Before):

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,—that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,—that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,—that is the escape therefrom.


Photo: Great Buddha Statue Bodh Gaya

 

COVID-19 connectedness

POSTCARD#366: Bangkok: Thailand reported 6 new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Friday, May 01 taking its tally to 2,960 infections while fatalities remained at 54 since the outbreak began in January. On a global scale, the presence of covid-19 in our lives shows that when humanity is united in a common cause, social transformation is possible. Looking at changes in social behaviour, economy, and the role of government, an opportunity arises again to see the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important.

Here in Thailand, Jiab tells me she attended the death ceremony (the pouring of water) of her Great Grandfather when she was five years old. Death is no ending, death is going home… it’s how it is understood in most Asian societies. I imagine the same for III World societies everywhere. In the West however, it is usually hidden away and thus COVID-19 has revealed the reality, death is part of life.

We are the survivors after the War – as it is/was after any war, those who remain, understand that life is sacred. Each person, young or old, sick or well, is a sacred, precious, beloved being. What does it really mean, all the hugs, kisses-on-both-cheeks, handshakes and high-fives we are removed from right now (and may be adapted in some way in a more permanent basis)? It means let’s be connected by whatever means as an expression of love and spirit.

What makes it difficult is the Western belief in the separate self in a world of Other, me separate from you… driven by power and the fear of losing it. The obsession with money and property, extensions of the self – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. Some would say the exact opposite of the Buddha’s Teaching.

What’s coming is a wave of revelation; situations just taken for granted in the past are being reappraised, seen with compassion. How can we find out about those who cannot work from home? The hotel staff, the taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the janitors and cashiers. What can we do about those who have lost their jobs due to the covid-19 shut-down? What is the best way to help vulnerable people? The homeless? How can we be connected with people in the slum districts in inner cities?

The covid-19 shut-down activates compassion, leaders and activists start to emerge, campaigning for the situation of the helpless, in so many words… something is stirred. If we have it in us, we can see quite clearly, the ‘normal’ that once was, is gone. We just can’t fall back into the same rut; monotony and a sense of lack. What can we do abut this? How to be part of this new connectedness in the covid-19 separation?

What’s coming is a new vision of what society could become – one that is less authoritarian and fearful, and more collaborative and local. Unseen altruism, resourcefulness and generosity that arise in situations of grief and disruption.

Necessary to be careful all the way through to an agreement: “… with the decimation of small businesses, a dependency on the state for a stipend that comes with strict conditions. The crisis could usher in totalitarianism or solidarity; medical martial law or a holistic renaissance; greater fear of the microbial world, or greater resiliency in participation in it; permanent norms of social distancing, or a renewed desire to come together.”

Excerpts from Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” included in this post.

 

the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease 2019 has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

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

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

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

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

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

May all beings be well.

 

 

transformation

POSTCARD#363: Bangkok: I’m writing this in the house Jiab and I have had since 2003. At that time we were in the Bangkok suburbs but after a few years, the city grew up all around us, the urban highway extended itself into the neighborhood and real estate got snatched up everywhere. New Metro train lines are being constructed and in no time at all, condominiums started to appear over our humble single storey houses.

For most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and our nephew, part time grad student acting caretaker. We were in Bangladesh for two years and India for seven years, returning to the Bangkok office in 2017. Even then, the house stayed empty because of the traffic problem and we had to rent a single room downtown, not too far to get to work in rush hour traffic.

At that time we used to come from the rented room to the house only on the weekends. These days of course, we’re all under the stay-at-home order and working from home, so we moved back into our house and now we get to see what it’s like to be at home every day of the week. People everywhere in the world who are working at home must be experiencing this one way or another.

Key in the search word in internet and find various restaurants are doing delivery of lunches and dinners online, as well as local delivery (from our neighbors) of a small range of home-cooked food items. The doorbell goes ping-pong!, I look over the small balcony to see. Yes it’s the lunch delivery, the motorbike guy there with his helmet and mask on and Jiab is masked too, taking the bag from him.

Shortly after that there’s another ping-pong, I look out and down there, a car is stopped outside our house with driver’s door left open. This must be a neighbor’s delivery. Curiosity gets the better of me and I go downstairs to see what’s going on. Jiab’s laptop and deskwork occupies one end of the long dining table, ceiling fan whizzing around (this is the hot season) and all her papers held down in the breezy winds with salt/pepper shakers and other condiment items from the table.

The remaining part of the table is laid out for two. Jiab has the chicken and Somtam (Green papaya salad). I have the Salmon with black Teriyaki sauce and Pink colored sweet ginger, which I share with Jiab and she shares her Green papaya salad with me. Then we have the Best Dessert in the World, Gelatin colored white and also transparent, with mango in the middle… more of an indulgence than anything else. We have one each and that’s it, lunch is done.

Interesting conversation over lunch, Jiab who was brought up in the Buddhist faith, found it hard to believe when I told her that at Easter we have an example of an immense transformation (Death of Jesus and the Resurrection). She didn’t have the same emotional connection as I do (having been proselytized all the way from childhood to adult life). So when it occurred to me that the Easter experience for Christians fits exactly into the transformation of the world economy after COVID-19, Jiab didn’t immediately see the significance of the transformation. Could be that only Christians see it. Not possible to discuss this at length here, maybe some other time.

The world-wide crisis looms and there’s hope but also uncertainty. We cannot project into a (possibly distant) future when everything has returned to the same stability we had before COVID-19 arrived. It could be a metaphor for the Easter story. We let go of the old way and find a starting point for the new, it’s a learning process. Learning how to learn and learning that this is possible – all the causes and conditions here are right for it… not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are for now, allowing for change.

containment

POSTCARD#362: Bangkok: The Government on Friday, April 03, 2020, reported 103 new local cases of Covid-19, raising the total to 1,978, and four new deaths which increased the toll to 19. Thailand is a small country about the size of Texas. Efforts at containment of the virus means we are on stay-at-home conditions although some goods and services are still being delivered. I haven’t been out of the house for two weeks… have everything I need. We get most things by a masked man on a motorbike. He always gets a tip from this household.

My sense of being at home is quiet and at ease because we are provincial. Also the busy road network all around is deserted right now – everyone working from home if possible. So there’s time to reflect on what else is going on in our World of people on stay-at-home conditions.

Fortunately there’s also the opportunity to step into an introspective state/ meditation. I go to my most comfortable chair, sit down and close my eyes. Letting go of any anxiety felt right now. How does it feel? We’re here in the familiarity of our own homes, and that’s true for everyone else.

We are all ‘here’, in a metaphorical sense, in our various locations, North, South, East, West. In different parts of the world, in different time zones, we’re all experiencing that special feeling of being ‘here’, at home, right now.

Meditation is not an effort to make oneself peaceful, and there you are, end of story. It is a practiced development of that calm state of mind in order to see clearly how to step out of our fundamental confusion. Breathe in slowly, breathe out long, Watch the inbreath, the outbreath, we place our attention in ‘here’ the center of the body and focus on this state of being ‘here.’ Consider the difference between no-where, and now here.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. We’re all inside, ‘here’, inhabiting the space contained by floor, walls, ceiling and the furniture we live with. Be calm we are all at home. Relaxation and thinking about things while watching the inbreath and outbreath.

Stories come and go, pondering over this and that, and the awareness of being engaged with the thinking thing gets included in the searching – looking here and there as if I were looking for something I lost, but a while ago I forgot what it was. Can you believe it? The search function goes on, no matter what. If I start thinking about how to stop thinking, the mind gets busy searching for the way to do that.

Thinking has its own momentum, takes time to slow down; that’s the nature of it. With that thought, things start to fizzle out… letting it all go, until there’s nothing left and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. The mind is alerted… an empty space opens up, a great mirror showing Consciousness looking at itself – the awareness of being aware. Silence and emptiness; everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, yes the invitation to be involved with thought is there but the novelty of no-thought holds my attention.

The breath is so faint and light it’s almost not there at all. No other sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with; no sense object activates the chain of events and all that remains is the mind’s cognitive function.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. A curiosity stirs: the ‘self’ is a sensory experience; the experiencer is an experience – there is only experiencing. Consciousness is the sensory organ of the universe. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and cognizance – this is how the universe experiences itself.

We are all ‘here’, each and every one of us, aware and observing the circumstances associated with this fundamental truth of consciousness.

Consciousness, perception, and reality interact by way of the six sense doors: eye, ear, nose, tongue, feeling, and mind. The one that is accessible is the mind sense-door, leading to awareness of all the other senses, including the sense that it is self-aware; a cognitive functioning focused on the sense of awareness. Everything falls away, leaving only the arising and ceasing of things. Then that falls away too and there is ‘the end of the world’. Beyond that, awareness continues – not dependent on conditions supporting awareness.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.044.than.html

Excerpts from an earlier post: ‘self is a sensory experience’. Thanks to: ‘truthless truth’ for the discussion in 2012 that led to the publication of this post.

G   R   A   T   I   T  U   D   E


to let there be no resistance at all

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#359: Bangkok: I’ve had the pain in the right side of my head for five years, and swallowing these expensive forget-me-not capsules every wakeful moment since the whole thing was diagnosed. So every now and then I get round to reducing the habitual intake of pharmaceuticals and see how that works out. This time it was different in a significant way. Instead of having the meds everywhere in my bag, my pockets, my purse, gather them all together and keep them in one place, slightly out of reach. Up on the top shelf of the bookcase – not impossible to get to, but not easy to access… went to sleep that night and forgot all about it.

Then, somewhere in the darkness of early morning, the pain comes… ringing the urgency bell, louder and louder, nearer and nearer. Still in the dream state, ‘I don’t want it to be here!’ Panic and the fear of unknown things. Wide awake now and the fear is dispersed, but the reality of it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way – the avoidance, resistance. Obstructing it, subverting it by any means, running away from it.

‘What can I do?’ There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to reach out for whatever comfort there is nearby and see how that goes. But there’s just no getting-away from it. This is a no-choice situation and, strangely enough, things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it.

The immensity of the pain is occupying all the space and I’m backed into a corner. No escape, the only thing I can do is turn around to face the pain and step into it. Fearlessness, but really no other way to go, no choice – then the discovery; dropping the resistance to the pain causes a moment of ease to arise.

It was this action (or non-action) that led to a glimpse of consciousness without an object, quite an extraordinary, out-of-this-world feeling. There was desperation all around but just enough of an easing in the pain to tell me that whatever it was I’d done was the right way to go. Just letting it be there, without backing away. It was somewhere here I noticed the easing. Allowing the alarm to ring and finding the conviction to let there be no resistance at all, no tightening up. For this one insightful moment, the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off.

Then the pain comes back, deep stabs of it like bolts of lightning passing through, but the intention to allow space for the pain is still there. As the immensity of it become less and less, acceptance opens more and resistance begins to fall away. I see now there’s the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

An old friend sent me a link Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) It’s a mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. So I’m going to look into that.


 

this and then that

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#358: Chiang Mai/Bangkok Flight: Phone alarm goes off… there’s something I’ve forgotten! It takes a moment to realize I’m leaving today, not tomorrow. Oh no… I’m not ready! Sit up, legs over the bed… cool floor tiles on naked feet. A flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag. Quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow 3 headache capsules, bag on wheels, into taxi and we’re off.

Even after sitting quietly in the taxi watching the streets go by, I’m still rushing and bumping into things in my head. Breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport. We get there, bag on wheels, mask attached over the face. I think of the aloneness of Muslim women.

Struggling to be mindfully aware of immediate realities; the layers of security, and being shuffled through the portals and gateways: this, and then that – this, and then that. A sea of white masks and black hair… black irises and pupils show the whites of the eyes.

The parts these thoughts come together in the space of a moment. Did it happen before I was aware of it, or was it my becoming aware of it that required the parts to come together, and making sense of it in that moment. Are all moments the same? Whatever, each thought appears in its own window and I’m tugged away, involved, engaged in the story of it. Identikit assembled in each case for it is always a story about me as subject or object, features selected to match all the characteristics of who I think I am in each instance. And always the same, variations on a theme of Me and Mine.

It seems I have my headache to get adjusted to, now there’s now less need to rush through the crowds. So, how best to get along with things, having swallowed the meds before breakfast. Head spinning slightly, slow down and shuffle in the directional momentum through remaining corridors, doorways. Eye contact with people here and there over the tops of their masks… (a masked foreigner in their midst). Passing through the last portal, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my tiny seat.

A small space of window and looking out under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: Here we are cruising at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we will soon be descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit

Dialogue summarized like text messaging minimalism, words tell me what things are, fill a perceived empty space, create distance – it’s ‘out there’. Language gives everything a label, gives ‘me’ an identity; name and form (namarupa), creates a separateness, subject/object duality.

Emptiness and a lack of self, the deep knowing there’s nothing there triggers the reaction to fill the empty space with a self-construct, an image, a movie celebrity, a child’s doll, the sphinx, the totem pole, dependency on a perceived creator. I can rest in this fictional state and know it’s just the way the software works, it’s like this. Knowingness is at the base of it all, in every way.

‘… impossible to be aware of an experiencer because it is always the experience itself that momentarily occupies that space.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’]

off the top of my head

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#357: Bangkok/Chiang Mai Flight: Rushing through the airport, late for my flight, with an urgent headache seeking attention like an inconsolable child. At the first opportunity I take off my mask and swallow another three capsules of forget-me-nots together with a small bottle of water I carry with me for this purpose. Losing track of the number of capsules I’ve taken already in all the discomfort of the journey. Another problem is wearing a mask intended for smaller heads than mine. There must be XL size but us big-headed folk are in the minority.

The flight takes about one hour and I’m in a half-sleep state, wakened by stabs of headache. Try supporting the head with one hand and an elbow on the chair frame. There, it’s seen as if separated from the neck and body. Feeling its weight, 5 kg (Wikipedia tells me), it becomes an object, the brain, the skull, eyes, teeth, facial muscles and skin. Vivid images conjured up by enhanced imagination, and the journey goes on.

Then landing… the aircraft swaying like a ship on the bumpy runway, all the rock-and-roll, accelerated, braked, jerked, and we’re here. Airport taxi to the apartment. I feel dizzy and my face is hot. Anyway I get there safe and sound, remove face mask.

So, how was the flight?

Yes, okay, not too crowded.

We found some large face masks for you.

Great, thanks

For a moment it’s strange to be speaking, looking for something to say. Thought associates words, pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

How’s the headache?

Not too bad.

The head is an acoustic device resonating like a wind-instrument. Breathlessness of ‘voice’, tone quality created in volume of throat, in void of mouth and intricate cranial cavities. Small sounds like the reed of a wind instrument. Rolling articulated back throat cavities’ deep volumes of sound. Gasps and split bits of wet air that whistle and chirp for an instant.

I go to my room and sleep quite early.

Completely awake again at 4 am, and no headache. I roll over and pull the bedclothes around the shoulders and over the head, keep out the chill mountain air. Get myself up in the sitting position and with pillows stuffed under me, make the preparations for a half-hour sit, maybe 45 min.

Meditation for me, means relearning the practice of Vipassana, insight, seeing things clearly. I was quite active 10 years ago, when I got the headache 5 years ago it fell away to almost nothing.

But once learned, the practice remains, perhaps here and there, remembering it as we go along. Watching the in-breath and out-breath, only that. Stop the mind flitting around like a shape-shifter. On the way, I may briefly arrive at the place of no-thought, no ‘thingness’, nothingness but in a moment it becomes ‘somethingness’, its opposite – and again no thingness. Treading carefully through the landscapes of tranquility. Return to the actuality of the breathing and be aware of these kinds of things entering and leaving the mind.

The head, positioned at the top of this column of body wrapped in bedclothes, is seeing, observing what is coming into internal consciousness. I am not looking out at the World, the World (consciousness) is looking into me, into my eyes, takes the form of a visual object, now this, now that. And feeling through the other senses into this experience of sitting upright on my bed, this space of the room, this place. It’s like I am (we are) a sense apparatus for sensitive life, complex consciousness, which feels through us as sensory instruments. The reality of this, for some of us… is Brahman.

Come back to the breathing. Hard to do this, mind is not familiar with the ‘unthinking’ state… learning that it’s just this physical awareness and everything is as it is for a moment of consciousness, and another – then it changes again. I’ve got nothing to think about and that’s okay; thought, itself, is a downloadable software. Thinking is the whole story; random episodes, snippets, individual words. Then nothing, without thought, there isn’t any story. Training the mind to keep a note of the meds taken, rather than an off the top of my head figure, based on the remaining capsules, always at hand, for pain or for the small comfort that’s in it.

Ease the mental activity caused by things not being as I’d want them to be, them to be, need them to be, expect them to be (Dukkha: Buddhist suffering, dissatisfaction). First Noble Truth. Necessary to investigate this because doing nothing about it and just tolerating the suffering permits a willful attachment to it and that’s not the way we want to go.

Defeating all the mechanisms of mind with their crinkly acetate enclosures for these three capsules of forget-me-nots. Let go of the internal struggle, reach out for the universal truth. Birdsong and daylight slowly fills the room.

“Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending.” [Rupert Spira]

There is nothing external to Brahman… a non-dual, self-luminous consciousness, [expanding] to encompass the entire universe, which is but the appearance of Brahman; everything is the Self.

[David Loy, Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta:
Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?]

 

the dreamer

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#356: Bangkok: I’m writing about the headache that lives with me, sometimes gone and “gone is gone” I used to think. Then it comes back again, wearing a different suit of clothes, together with the crinkly acetate that contains the three capsules of forget-me-nots, and that’s how we get along. Similar to that flickering old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed. So I get the stepladder in place, go up three steps and unplug one end of the tube, pull out the other end and plug in the new one. Get down and switch on, and the new light is… quite heavenly.

So, it’s under this quite heavenly light, clear and bright, I revisit the flicker of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, review conversations and receive all that was said there, held, seen, nurtured and on and on until, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder. Of course that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. And next week (I don’t want to think about it) I go to the Pain Clinic to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the scalp and the right occipital nerve – the intrusive ‘grab’ of electricity… GRAB and HOLD!

The present moment seems as if it is forever waiting in the transit lounge on the brink of becoming future time while engaged in contemplative pondering over the past. The present moment is always underway, and even if it feels like I have to hold it, tether it to the ground, and adhere myself to it in single-minded possessiveness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too.

At the time, I was unaware of the implications of this however, falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway train, disaster movie showing the world as we know it, crashing through the restraints of how it should be, shown in slow motion; too heavy for the flimsy structure built to keep it in place… and I’m suddenly back in the present moment again.

We’re always only part the way through anything, anyhow and anyway at any time; here, there, or anywhere. Fresh new thoughts always somehow returning, stay for a while then displaced by the next moment of remembering… and the present moment is inclusive of that too.

And inclusive of that too, is death… who knows what happens after that, well, how could we reach that final ending and know what happens after that? Nobody ever came back from What Happens After That to say what it was like. All we can say is that this world will come to an end eventually.

The great ship, ‘Final Ending’ and all who sail in her begins to fall in on itself, as do great empires that have spanned the centuries, like castles made of sand, tumble to the sea eventually… then, in another kind of temporality, we see the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and everyone can go on where we left off. Consciousness shines like a new tube light, quite heavenly. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, aniccan and in the end there is no ending.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. 
This is true for the entire universe.” [Aitareya Upanishad]


Note: This post is a rewrite of my other post, “In the end, there is no ending”.