apperception & pain

A single day lived

with conscious intention and wisdom

is of greater value than a hundred years

lived devoid of discipline and manifest wisdom.

The best offering we can make to the Buddha is to live wisely. We all know the consequences of living in accordance with preferences: we feel divided, not whole. When conditions conspire to be agreeable we lose ourselves in the happiness we have gained; when conditions become disagreeable we despair over what we have lost. Wisdom ‘sees’ both gain and loss – wisdom sustains the awareness which makes us free. [Ajahn Munindo Verse 111 from ‘A Dhammapada for Contemplation’ (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006.]

I aspire to this, the state of mindfulness at whatever point in time and space – awareness of actions, body and mind throughout the day. As it is, I’m burdened with pain – oddly similar, the awareness of pain at whatever point in time and space.

The following are diary entries at the end of last year when I was working with low doses of meds (Neurontin and Lyrica), in order to see the differences and the qualities of each, if possible. Also to try to adjust from two years on maximum consumption ‘when conditions conspired to be agreeable’ and existing in a pain-free vague haze every day. [the H: the headache]

  1. What to do about this ‘steel’ headache… like a wide steel spike pushed into the head at the crown and it’s unmoving, taking all the focus and attention.
  2. Hours go by, turning over and over in bed. Trying different positions and sometimes falling into a partial sleep.
  3. Then in the course of the day, various doses of medicine effectively reduce the pain; or is it the attention the H demands… and I experience a lightbulb moment. It’s apperception and pain… [apperception: the introspective or reflective apprehension by the mind of its own inner states.]
  4. The rest of the afternoon and evening pain-free, where’d it go? Wow, there’s no such thing as pain? Not exactly. Apperception and pain – a new way of seeing the world. At the same time I’m aware the H is not here right now because it’s ‘somewhere else’. Lyrica is good at hiding the headache; no indication of pain at all.
  5. A fear of the H is hovering around… then it comes back during the night and early morning. I took the dose at 5am and the drive to the city went okay, the H was sufficiently out of the picture to not be a problem. All the way through these early morning hours and various events that took place the H was out of view. Around 9.30am that metallic pressure behind the ear on both sides of the head as if a large hand grip on the back of the head, thumb on one side and fingers holding these pressure points.
  6. Still it feels like the metallic grip could squeeze harder anytime. After the Lyrica dose, there’s no change; the H could start with or without the Lyrica dose. I feel like I should take another dose to make sure the H doesn’t get a hold. But I don’t take an extra dose, time goes on and I ‘forget’ about it. The Lyrica cushioning settles in and makes everything comfortable.
  7. The H is not causing any difficulties this morning, which leads me to think there’s something about how associated circumstances have an effect and the H is perceived as this or that, according to these associations. It may sound overly simple but there’s something more to this I can’t quite see yet. It becomes obvious, the medicine has an effect on how the patient ‘feels about’ the pain. Now we are out of the city in the Nontaburi house, no traffic. Suddenly here, there’s a feeling of space, room to move. We normally live in a small apartment downtown. The pain is intense there, but not in the empty house where we are now.

 to be continued

metta, ‘that loving feeling’

POSTCARD#339: Bangkok: The 4 Brahmaviharas, maybe you don’t know about these wonderful states of mind, if so they are a light in the midst of all this political darkness swirling around Valentines Day 2019. It’s hard for me and sometimes I think of it as searching for something that’s lost. So inexplicably lost that I’ve forgotten what it was I was searching for too, and I don’t know what I’m doing any more. No point in trying? No because I’ve found it in the past, and I remember how wonderful it was. Besides, it is well documented in the Buddhist discourses and, beginning with myself before moving on to other persons close to me and outwards to others with whom I may have an ambivalent relationship: “may I be well, may I be free from suffering, may I not be parted from the good fortune I have attained. It’s not easy but through these willful intentions I’m able to liberate the mind from time to time.

  1. metta (Pali), is that loving feeling, the practice of cultivating loving kindness, universal love. All beings have the innate ability to generate metta; loving kindness; an intentional dwelling in heart-felt emotion. Breath meditation with a focus on the breathing organs which are situated in the heart; metta-chit, with a heart of loving kindness, wishing all beings well, using thought to generate goodwill… like falling in love with goodwill, in its highest form, over and over again.

Through the practice of meditation, metta is felt in the centre of one’s being; the middle of the chest and radiating outwards on all sides. But these days, when I try to bring out that feeling of loving kindness, I experience pain – even though it’s been months since the violent ‘punch’ exactly in centre of the ribcage… the aching is still with me. Also the damage to the right occipital nerve (right side of the forehead) echoes and reinvents trauma of some sort or another although these last few years this too seems to be less than before.

Distressing, the thought that I may have lost the ability to generate loving kindness. There is however, the ability to receive metta through the goodwill and generosity of Noble Friends in the form of compassion.

  1. karuna (Pali), compassion is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop. Karuna is the capacity to remain present in the face of pain and suffering, dukkha (Pali). “May all beings be free from suffering.” Karuna essentially is the application of goodwill.

Whereas dukkha generates an urgency, more and more suffering, karuna is right in there, trying to understand the suffering, at the same time generating wholesome intention, and looking for the way out of suffering.

I can feel metta karuna and that’s as far as it goes for me at this point; although I can understand, of course, how metta karuna becomes Sympathetic joy

  1. mudita (Pali), sympathetic joy is the opposite of envy. Mudita is the capacity for boundless, appreciative joy and gratitude to all beings. Mudita is what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness: it wants the happiness to continue.

You are happy for others’ success. Important in this world of arm twisting, back stabbing, elbowing competition in some form or other. It becomes imperative to have the intention to wish others well, rejoicing in the attainments of others.

As Buddhists we depend on metta karuna, wishing others well and mudita rejoicing in their happiness “… may they not be parted from the attainments they have achieved.’ Rejoicing in the goodness of other people, and the fullest extent of this, back to suffering… and maybe when I encounter suffering I can’t stop no matter what. This is when equanimity arises.

  1. Upekkha (Pali), equanimity is the capacity to be with things as they really are. Not to create more suffering or joy than is there in reality. With the intention to avoid creating additional suffering and to channel my energies intelligently to areas where I can be of help. In this way, equanimity isn’t cold hearted or indifferent. It simply makes goodwill more focused and effective.

Upekkha means the heart is balanced, no ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’. I’m able to look on, rather than being actively involved at this stage. May I abide in equanimity (may I just look on without Liking or Disliking) And whatever has the nature to arise, ceases. All things are of the nature to arise and then fall away – allow these things to develop without my engagement. Let go of Liking or Disliking – these things only cloud the mind.


Note: I’ve used many sources to write this post and I may have lost some but below are the best links. Also, the upper image I found on the internet some years ago but since then I seem to have lost the origin. If you happen to know it please let me know, thanks. The field of flowers is a pic by Pok near the submerged caves where the boys were rescued in Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand

 

https://www.thoughtco.com/loving-kindness-metta-449703

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8H6KivldfU

http://www.buddhanet.net/mettab5.htm

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOnYY9Mw2Fg

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

inclusiveness

POSTCARD#337: Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours. Dreamscape of spinning fans in a warm dark night, gives way to another sound, a motorbike intrudes, coming nearer and nearer, voices talking loudly – the driver and his companion sitting behind, shouting to be heard over the sound of the engine. Driver lowers the throttle to listen to what’s being said. The sound fills my room up here on the third floor, as it passes below, engine noise and a few disconnected words, then it’s quiet again.

I hear them, faintly now, fading into the distance, enclosed in the small environment of their moving world. Curious acoustics in this narrow street, the sound of the shouted conversation sliced into pieces only where there are facing buildings – and other people, I assume, are wakened for a moment, as I was, then fall asleep again. Consciousness creating continuity between otherwise unrelated but similar things. Thus long strings of events linked together form a lifetime, included in one seamless reality.

Just as a monkey moving through the forest or the woods holds on to a branch, lets it go and holds on to another; in the same way what we call viññāṇa (consciousness) arises as one thing and ceases as another, by day and by night.’ [SN.II.95]


reflections on an earlier post

death and divorce

POSTCARD#335: Bangkok: The sad truth about the West, is that divorce is about as common as marriage. Religion got deconstructed; the story came to pieces, no belief, no myth to feel directly connected with, except perhaps the myth of no-myth. We’re married to the economy, worship the consumer god, seek refuge, gratification, fulfilment and consolation in the purchase of goods and services. What’s left over after that, in terms of belief, we have to figure out any way we can.

It’s a world of our own choosing – for better or worse, wedded to the belief in a concept, no more. Here today, gone tomorrow… but it can take many years to wake up and see it for the illusion it is. Sadness, loss, but no one to blame, think forgiveness, wellness and the honesty of living in the world while waking up to it. Who am I? Who is the one who seems to inhabit this place? And a ‘self’ slips into view, flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being. Life looking in through the eyes, input/output, and the experience of this room, inside-out, this space that contains the sensory apparatus I believe to be ‘me’ appearing in an agreed-upon reality.

Borderline cat burglar, a master of disguise, the skilled actor is one who’s had to lose his/her identity through necessity (hereinafter called The Party of the First Part), becomes an expert in taking on a ‘self’ that fits into context… a suitable arrangement. The ‘me’ I live with now, is not the ‘me’ I was then – more than 30 years since, a ‘self’, seen in the shadow of a dreamed-up past, the divorcé in mourning for a family lost in death and divorce. Mourning over that which was started but left unfinished, abandoned through forgetfulness.

One signature and all of it annulled, lineage discontinued. No time to say goodbye to my adoptive family who had all welcomed me, the in-law, into their hearts as a brother and son. I like to think they wished me well, in fact… I’m sure of it, but gone is gone, empty spaces in the fabric of my life. I am the one who went away and forgot to come back; since then, wandering through the overwhelm of many years in Asia, and the ruins of a life I lived once.

The absence of this person or that person, heard about years later, passed away a decade ago already mourned, forgotten even. My ex-mother-in-law gone from this world, her husband, Pops, gone too. How could I have let this happen? Remembering, there’s-no-one-to-blame, forgiveness asked-for and given. Forgiveness asked-for from those we thought to be blameworthy. Forgiveness to ourselves for bearing the burden of applied blame… forgiveness is our mantra throughout the day. Forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Today I am willing to see past illusions to the truth. Today I am willing to become as a little child and be taught by the One Who knows. Today I step back and take my unhealed thoughts to the Light, that I might see them for the nothingness they are. I am willing to let my projections be undone. I am willing to remember Where I am always. Today I am willing to be happy, instead of right.

[Forgiveness Prayer: A Course In Miracles]


 

the world of the dream

Mpic2POSTCARD#334: A village near Hat Yai: Here in a house surrounded by trees, it’s nearly one year since I was last in this place. Birdsong and mostly quietness; only a faint noise from the road reaches us here, drifting in according to wind direction. And the sound of two puppy dogs yap-yap tied up on long leads, getting bathed by being dragged along the concrete path, pulled under the garden tap and held there as long as possible (they’re so small you can do that), then untangling the leads is the difficult part. They soon dry off in the hot sun. The chicken population chirp-chirp of last year has disappeared from this world, some eaten by carnivorous nocturnal creatures that watch from the edge of the clearing. Most are eaten by carnivores who live in the house – thus the truth of farmyard life is revealed. A new population of chickens pecks the ground chirp-chirp where the others once pecked, and who’s to say they’re not the same ones reborn? A piebald kitten miaow goes around seeking attention, miaow. Four cows; three have bells tingaling, tingaling, tingaling around the neck and there’s one with a bamboo bell that goes clacka-clacka. Three of the animals are dignified and silent; there’s one that goes moo-aaaah, feeling a bit hard-done-by, maybe. I don’t know if it’s the one with the bamboo bell; that’s just the way it is, no obvious connection; no reason for it – or for anything. There’s just this multiplicity of loosely related phenomena that has the characteristics of a farmyard scene. It’s like this right now because it’s nearly evening, and everything’s going: chirp-chirp, yap-yap, miaow-miaow, tingaling-tingaling, clacka-clacka and moo-aaaah. Sun turns orangey, pinkish purple, sinks rapidly below the horizon – no twilight. Approaching darksome night mystery, and wild nocturnal carnivores wait in stealth at the edge of shadow. Insects zzzzzling and large moths surround the porch light that’s left on till morning. Upstairs in the half-dark of the guest bedroom, M can’t go to sleep. ‘I not go to sleep yet, Toong-Ting. You have to tell me a story’, she says, addressing me as Toong-Ting, in her 9 year old way of giving people and things in the World different names. It’s my responsibility, I’m the fictionist. Too late now to go find a story book from downstairs, and I try telling her that…‘Then you tell me your story, your own’, M says. This means I have to invent something… there’s just no getting away from it. So, in an inspired moment, I start telling her about all the birds here around the house and, when we leave next week, all the chickens and the rooster and the ducks and birds in the trees and the owls will come with us to the airport. They’ll have to take a taxi by themselves because there are so many of them but the driver can follow us in our car. They don’t have to check in any bags because they don’t have any bags, of course. They just get on the plane with us, perch on the seat backs and arm rests and fold-away tables and go: chirp-chirp, cockadoodledoo, quack-quack, woo-woo, tweet-tweet as the plane rushes along the runway, up into the air, flies away into the clouds, far far away until nobody on the ground can see it anymore. There’s a short pause and M asks me, ‘Leally (really) Toong-Ting? Why the birds go in a plane, they can fly by themselves?’ And, yes, there’s this unforseen problem about the story, I realize – so, I begin my explanation for these circumstances then notice that M has fallen into the dream and is already asleep…


reflections on an earlier post

gate 10

POSTCARD#333 Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport: We are awake very early and into the car before sunrise, through the empty streets, darkness and strange yellow sodium streetlights. Then the elevated highway over the rooftops of the town and out to the airport to meet the Air France flight, ETA: 06.15 hrs. As it turned out, the flight was delayed by two hours, so there was time to sit in the seats at the tour group end of Arrivals, near Gate 10 and I have time to open the laptop to write this.

Gate 10, at Bangkok airport, is where the tour groups gather, bleary-eyed and sleepless, having just got off the plane from some distant part of the world. I hear people around me speaking Russian, and see from the Arrivals board it must be the flight from Novobirisk. They assemble at Gate 10 and have their names ticked off a list by the Thai guides. There’s 30 minutes allowed to have a cup of coffee; children run around, and everyone is ready to get on the coach.

But before that happens, the Russian tourists spend the time intensely absorbing everything around them; speaking with the tour guides and taking pictures of everything; roof structure, walls, illuminated adverts, airport signage, and each other posing in front of vases of purple orchids, dressed up in their best summer frocks and smiling for the camera. It’s as if they’d stepped out of the 1950s, remote from anything I know of and yet there’s a familiarity; starting to see people I knew in my childhood in the North of Scotland.

There are so many photos being taken, it’s like a small press event; digital camera lights flashing too much. I’m dazzled by it, blinded for a moment and have to look at the floor to allow normal vision to recover. Look up again and they’re all leaving, the whole place captured in pixels and taken away back to Novobirsk, at the end of the holiday, where all the views of it are reassembled to form one composite image of the waiting area at Gate 10.

When they’re all counted and answering names shouted from a list, the tour leader gathers them together in a long column. The mass exodus of the group is dynamic, following the leader in front who’s holding a coloured flag high in the air so they can see it. Off they go, through the wide passageways and shuffling along with their luggage and running children and moving as one great lake of beings in the direction of the coaches somewhere in another part of the airport.

In a short time all the seats at Gate 10 are suddenly empty, strangely quiet, light slowly coming up and then it’s completely daylight, people again start to assemble in the seating area at gate 10. It’s another group from Beijing, same thing as last time but the conversations I hear this time are in Chinese.

“God experiences Life through each of us, and we experience Life thanks to God.” [Peter Shepherd]


Reflections on an earlier post

hold on and let go (2)

POSTCARD#332: Bangkok: Waking up from a dream on the outskirts of reality, strange doorways, crooked pathways seen in the flickering yellow of a street lamp, and there’s the headache that’s always with me. Recognition of this breaks through everything, as does a piercing shaft of light in a darkened room. I see the headache that hasn’t become anything yet, and allow it to ‘become’ without becoming it. A headache without a ‘self’, a subject without an object; this is not happening to me, there’s no ‘me’ to whom this headache is happening… I insist, refuse to be the headache-ee. It seems to me to make good sense then, that the normal holding-on to everything is not as important as the letting-go of it all.

Elbow props up the body, legs unfold and feet placed on the cold floor. Settle down, awareness of the in-breath/out-breath, and a curious feeling in the air; an atmosphere that’s suddenly different from what it usually is. The cool season, our tiny little winter, and in January, you may have a day when it’s necessary to wear a jacket.

Reach for the meds; two capsules and a gulp of water… everything swept away in speculation of what it might be, or could have been, in the stream of mental chatter, commentary blinkered, dysfunctional; endlessly recreating the world according to the mind’s perception of it, filtering out anything that doesn’t fit.

Supporting elbow removed and body falls back into the warm place where it was, legs follow, feet tucked in. No end, no beginning, leaving everything in the ‘now’, the continuous form of present tense – it never started so it cannot stop – it cannot leave because it never came [Mooji]. No past and no future except for the necessary getting-of-things-in-the-right-order in linear time.

Prompted in a certain way, Mind makes up the reason for things being the way they are; reasons for this, reasons for that, reasons why certain things are done according to some unwritten rule we comply with, and other things not done, as defined by Mind, but when looked for, are nowhere to be found. Dispersed, dissolved as soon as we of think it, and everything comes to a standstill… a sudden lack of things to think about, or an absence of things I think I should be thinking about. No words, no nothing, emptiness, vanishing trick, one two three, gone.

“…your real nature is not-knowing. It is a total absence of all that you think you are, which is all that you are not. In this total absence of what you are not, there is presence. But this presence is not yours. It is the presence of all living beings. You must not try to be open. You are open.” [Jean Klein]


Note: reflections on an earlier post. Art by Jill Lewis

mindfulness of pain

POSTCARD#331: Bangkok: I’m a Western migrant, living in the East for these last 30 years, and looking at my conditioning in the light of being inescapably part of the Eastern culture; all the ups and downs of life in Asia, and finding the way through in situations where language/behaviour are unfamiliar to the Western mind. Also the headache, from three years ago, learning how to live with that, requires an alertness, a sharp focus on how the pain gets stuck from time to time. There’s a built-in wake-up alarm that rings when this happens and every other time mindfulness is absent.

Being mindful of pain and the experience of suffering (dukkha) is necessary because there is the negativity surrounding pain, “Pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this!”… The locked-in reaction to criticize oneself for having the pain. Knowing there’s a difference between the pain itself and the act of resisting it.

I’m aware also of the attachment to wanting the pain to go away, “I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there!” Giving way to the energy generated by the craving, profoundly desiring it to ‘not-exist’. And knowing I’ll not find any peace in attempting to gratify that need, although I may persist in trying. Returning again to that confusion of thoughts and feelings; what to do? There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to notice how the pain arises when I try to get away from it. Better to be as calm as I can with the present moment and see how that goes.

There are many routes that take me to the awareness that it’s only in that no-choice situation… there, that a tiny moment of ease is felt, and I discover how it turns around; things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it. I need to be reminded the problem is not the pain; the problem is the concept of ‘me’ coping with the pain.

One of the first things I understood about the Buddha’s teaching is that the mind is not self. Mind is a sensory organ like the other five – mind is the sixth sense – everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think. The mind sense leads to a consciousness of how everything is coming in from the outer world through sensory experience and that default to the sense of self: hey, this must be happening to ‘me’. But the basic truth is that there’s no substantial ‘me’.

These wonderful smallest of smallest instants of mindfulness… the pain disappears for a moment and immediately the question arises, “How did it do that?” The answer comes in a different voice, “The mind sense can bypass the pain, so that the pain is not happening to anyone – there’s no ‘me’ engaging with the pain.” Instead there’s an awareness of the vast space of no thought and no attachment, abiding there, in a state of mindfulness and careful receptivity, a ‘looking’ to see what it could be, and what it couldn’t possibly be. There’s a kind of alertness about the sensory function, and the simple curiosity, “What is it doing now? Just being open to what this could be, is enough to understand how it works…

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” [Mother Teresa]


chattering green parrots

POSTCARD#330:Bangkok: Old Notebooks, Delhi 2012: Flocks of chattering green parrots in the tall Eucalyptus tree opposite, disturbed by birds of prey circling around in the upper sky. I watch the whole scene from our place on the roof terrace. All kinds of flowering plants here; bougainvilleas and chrysanthemums. If you have ‘chrysanthemums’, why can’t you have ‘chrysanthedads?’ I ask Jiab, who is reading the Thai news with great scrutiny. But this doesn’t seem to be worthy of comment right now and after a period of silence, I get busy with shifting these heavy flowerpots of chrysanthemums into a beam of sunlight. Much huffing and puffing, when I’m finished with that and sitting on my chair, looking at what I’ve done, Jiab says to me: ‘… happy now?’ And the serial depressionist in me stirs, ‘Yes, I suppose I am.’

Since childhood really, that lingering sense that things are not right… not as I’d want them to be. But I’m happy enough, yes. Why? Because all these things that I think are not as good as they could be or should be (even worse); all these things are just there – then they’re not there, I’ve forgotten about them. ‘First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain then there is.’ That’s how it is; the dark cloud of unhappiness is not hanging over me today on the roof terrace with flowering plants in the sunshine. I can see there is dukkha (suffering) but that’s because I’m unknowingly holding it there. What’s needed is a conscious letting-go and then there’s no suffering – can it be as easy as that? Maybe it needs sustained effort, but that’s the idea of it. One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it. And I suggest this possibility to Jiab, who now inclines towards me thinking maybe I seem to be making a more intelligent remark this time.

And we talk about that for a while. It’s always interesting for me to hear what she says because like most Thais she knows the Pali terms, having learned the chanting by heart in elementary school. Jiab is also fortunate because her father was a monk twice in his lifetime, each time for a couple of years. As a result, he was able to explain to his children that life is permeated with suffering caused by desire, and that suffering ceases when desire ceases. Sila, Samadhi, Panya (right conduct, meditation and wisdom) releases one from desire, suffering, and rebirth.

What it comes down to in the end, is everything that arises passes away and the Venerable Assaji statement: “Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata has told. And also their cessation — Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.” [Venerable Assaji answers the question of Śāriputra the Wanderer], and I’m amazed how how Śāriputra was totally blown away by that and people were getting enlightened on the spot as a result of the Venerable Assaji statement. In this context I’m thinking it means if you can see and are aware of the attachment to things you love and hate, that’s all there is to it; ignorance is gone and no matter how much it is held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, suffering will pass away of its own accord: “Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” With that, there’s a sudden burst of noise from the green parrots in the trees opposite, attention shifts and we go over take a look at what’s going on…


reflections on an earlier post