POSTCARD #258: New Delhi: I perceive the world as a solid tangible thing, I see, hear, smell, taste, touch and in the mind’s eye I believe this to be so. But it’s a hologram – outer and inner, subject/object split as One; all of it is holographic. Therefore, the planet Earth seen from outer space, shining with color, is holographic. If that is so, all neighboring worlds, seen to be dead planets, could be teeming with life and we can’t see it because our sensory mechanisms are not compatible with their operating system, so to speak. In the same way, those other world populations are seeing their holographic extension of themselves, and can’t see our world for the same reason.

An idea for an SF story… the way it is, so clear to me now, waking up after a short snooze on the sofa and the headache almost gone. Birds twittering in the trees outside, they react to the drop in temperature as the heat of the day turns towards cool. Let’s see, it must be around 4 pm, raise the remains of my headache up from the sofa, legs over the side and stand up, feet into slippers: flip, flop, flip… over to the window and look out.

Trees standing around here and there, pointing at the sky and contemplating the situation: if a tree falls in the middle of nowhere, it makes no sound – it’s nowhere so, nobody’s there to hear it. But if you split the word into two parts: ‘now’ and ‘here’, somebody’ll hear the sound of it, because it is ‘now here’, and that’s a time/space location in the hologram which makes it real in this context. You could say, because this is so, I am. You are. We are ‘here’ in our world and out there is just ‘out there’, the abstract realm where: you are what you is, and you is what you am…[Frank Zappa].

There was a time when I wasn’t here, not born yet. The world just going on without that person called ‘me’ in it – there’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating. The day before I was born, everything was just going on, birds twittering in the trees as they are doing now, and all the other random events taking place as I was birthed. And all those I was to be connected with, one way or another, arrived from what I’d call the past, dissolving into circumstances of present time as it falls away into the future, encapsulated in the timeless moment we are in, always. Nothing out of place, as I see it now, and here at the open window on the second floor of the house where the treetops are level with the window and higher… birds twittering more and more, as the day turns towards evening.

“The universe lies before you on the floor, in the air, in the mysterious bodies of your dancers, in your mind. From this voyage no one returns poor or weary.” [Agnes de Mille]

Photo source


deities in the hall of mirrors

article-2378854-1B00FA8A000005DC-995_634x1281POSTCARD #156: Chiang Mai: I arrive in the hospital waiting area with the pain, this intrusive stabbing pain in the head and neck, postherpetic neuralgia, a permanent headache; sounds worse than it is – could be I’m getting used to it. There’s a flat screen TV and a coffee place, maybe I should order something? I have the iPhone to fiddle with, get busy with that… not interesting. Okay so try thinking about something else, but at this particular moment, there’s nothing else to think about – only the pain all around the right side of my head and neck. Think of something… thought itself is a free app I have the option to download on the mind/body device (namarupa) but even though I don’t have to download it, some of it seems to be here already, appears involuntarily. I hear the thoughts, the ‘voice’ inside the machine shouting out: Hey! the pain is happening to ‘me!’ It’s not happening to you, or them, or him, or her, it’s happening to me! The pain is ‘mine’, I am ‘possessed’ by it. Everything I love and hate, everything I love to hate – it belongs to ‘me’… it’s ‘my’ enemy!

With the pain swirling like a dense, dark cloud around my head and neck, I step carefully over to the TV that nobody is watching. There’s a remote, so I can flip through the channels and see where that gets me. Bend down to get the remote and the storm of pain happening to ‘me’ is there again, overwhelms everything, too much, for a moment I give way to it… and it’s then I notice there’s a space of somehow being detached from the pain, it’s something that’s not felt anymore, enough of an easing back from it to see the pain is an appearance, like everything else.

Sit down in front of the TV. Focus on the remote, press the buttons… so many channels. Some channels I recognise, then up into higher and higher numbers; places I’ve never been in before. Almost all of the channels are hazy or white-noise then I break through into a place that’s loud, clear and colourful. A Korean game-show, dubbed in Thai. It’s as if the storm of pain is all around but outside of this curious place – I’m safe in here. The scene unfolds, all the characters are lipsticked and painted with cosmetics like grotesque clowns, with amazing hair and impossible teeth, an embodiment of consciousness deeply obscured in layers of ‘self’. Man created God in his own image; a mirror reflection of the ego.

It’s a serious competition about trivialities; guests make appearances, have to tell anecdotes related to the question to gain points. They gaze at each other and see themselves as their own reflections; deities in the hall of mirrors – adults dressed to look like ‘cute’, children (kawaii), a real live dream-world; and the winning of the prize! Lights, colours music, the reward, congratulations, created laughter, spontaneous and heartening applause…

Just then, the nurse calls my name, I have to go and see the doctor. I get up from the chair slowly and take my pain away from the transparency of this kind of joyful TV state that’s doing its best to cultivate a desire for everything that is pleasing and a loathing dislike of everything that’s displeasing, perhaps unintentionally encouraging the hating of it, the not-wanting-it-to-be-there inverted craving, that contributes to the intensity of driving the economic machine… a kind of mental captivity; never seeing that the business of the actor is in the nature of appearances. The art of the illusionist, the politician…

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. [Robert Louis Stevenson]


Photo showing a product that creates a lower eyelid bulge. Source

constructed reality

sun image2POSTCARD06: Bangkok: Standing outside the house in the shade of a large tree, waiting for the taxi to the airport. The brightness of the sun is tremendous, colours are vivid, the world is a high resolution Photoshop enhancement. After the eye surgery I feel like a nocturnal creature, squinting in the daylight, a quiet presence behind sunglasses. I have an attachment to darkness, I’d like it to be dark, dull and rainy today but instead it feels like I’m in a television studio. The light penetrates everything. There are no real seasons in Thailand, no markers in the calendar to say where we are in the annual cycle. The weather is the same every day. Night comes at 6pm, instant darkness, then at 6am, instant daylight and each day is pretty much like the one before. The days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. The whole thing is just one very long, continuous day, and night is the blink of an eye.

Time disappears, people are startled to discover they have aged… wake up one day to discover they’re old – life has gone. Rip Van Winkle fell asleep and woke up with a very long beard. The story is based on an Orkney folktale about an inebriated fiddler, late one night on his way home, hears some wonderful music and discovers a group of magical beings dancing in a circle. He plays his fiddle with them for a while and continues on his way home. When he arrives he discovers fifty years have passed; people have died, his daughter is middle-aged, her children are grown up. We don’t see the true nature of the world. Reality is thought to be what is out ‘there’, perceptions based on received sensory data input: what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell – and what we ‘think’ it is. What we recognize as a particular colour, is seen by an insect as ultra-violet, by a snake as infra-red. Who are we to say our view of the world is exactly what it is? The ground appears to be solid, terra firma even though the planet is spinning around, hurtling through outer space at thousands of miles an hour. Things are not what they seem to be.

A bright pink and white taxi approaches the house, enters the driveway and fills my vision. Bags inside, door slam, reverse out and we’re gone.


‘… there are no colors in the real world… there are no textures in the real world. There are no fragrances in the real world. There is no beauty; there is no ugliness… Out there is a chaos of energy soup and energy fields. Literally. We take that and somewhere inside ourselves we create a world. Somewhere inside ourselves it all happens.’ [Sir John Eckles, Nobel Prize winner in physiology and medicine 1963]

the beholder


Bangkok: The world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colours and a strange familiarity, objects in the environment become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only, vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct. The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anaesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism namarupa. One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking at the world, I find an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colours, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. It has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display, high density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

Faces of friends and family are seen as if for the first time. I notice small expressions now I didn’t know were there, maybe because everybody is looking at my new eye, intense Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, a curious reality.

So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this. Can it really be so? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The expression always seemed a bit mean and divisive to me, ‘I’ think it’s beautiful but ‘you’ might think it’s not; beauty becomes a matter of opinion… In Buddhism, the ‘beholder’ sees the world and identifies the self, ‘me’. If ‘I’ am inside the body, in ‘here’, I must be separate from everything else out ‘there’, isolated, alone, anxious – wrong view a fundamental error. The attachment to a perceived self and craving for it to become real, creates suffering. Language has a naming function, creating an apparent identity. Anything that is stated is always missing the point because of these characteristics of language. Better to think of it in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is: ‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]


Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok.


IMG_0041Bangkok: Falling out of the sky, jet-lagged and inert. A 12-hour flight from London; they gave me an upgrade to business class, nice. More space, better everything and a larger seat. Able to stretch out in the prone position, yes but also a huge selection of videos so I watched movies for 12 hours and no sleep. Now in a state of hypnosis here at the house, lying on the sofa in another time zone. Early morning in Bangkok and I’m watching the FOX channel. There’s only one English language channel on TV in this place so it simplifies things: NCIS, Bones, The Bridge and others. The stories merge into one all-inclusive narrative, a complex and improbable plot. Good-looking actors in expensive cosmetics play characters that migrate from other crime series into this one, the central story, all roads lead to one end, catching the bad guy, variations on a crime scene theme. The pace of it is intense, camera shots hold for about 3 seconds then change. Background audio has a percussive, mechanical sound then it’ll switch to something calm; a picture of domestic reality, beautiful interior, elegant lighting, lovely fabrics – I wish I had a room like that. Slow piano notes played meaningfully, like steps taken through the memory of something that happened once. I’m lulled into acceptance; the way it unfolds is the way it is. I become the story.

I could switch off the TV but there’s a reluctance; a pleasing attachment, something that appears more difficult to let go of than it is. Resisting the emptiness, the deep knowing there’s nothing there that triggers the reaction to fill the empty space with a self-construct, or an image, a movie celebrity, a child’s doll, the sphinx, the totem pole, dependency on a perceived creator. I mute the sound, allow the engagement with it, following the story as it transforms, watching the present moment until it changes – how did that happen? I didn’t notice it take place, only after it occurred. There’s the sense of something applied. Consciousness seems like an unconnected series of screenshots, a random sequence of events; things without substance appear and fade away. Rest in this fictional state… it’s just the way things are. Mindfulness is at the base of it all, in every way. Sleep shuts off the system; down through the layers, comfort, familiar surroundings. Crash out on the sofa in flickering TV light…


‘Like fish that cannot see the water they swim in, we do not notice the medium we dwell within. Unaware that our stories are stories, we experience them as the world.’ [David Loy, The World is Made of Stories]

one in five hundred


Suvarnabhumi airport: 05.30 hours, enter the check-in hall, and I’m one in a great sea of people, all pushing trolleys with luggage… amazing; takes my breath away. It seems to be divided equally over two check-in areas: H on the left, and J on the right. Quick decision, go right – I’m at the end of the line, I’m the last… I’ll miss the plane! Everybody is stumbling along, dismayed: how could it be like this? The slow-shuffle, steadily moving down a very long, snake-like line, doubling back on itself, for five rows – looks like about 100 persons in each line, 500 people in front? The paranoia of individuals acting-out in wild queue-jumping behaviour arises (protecting my place in the line…) then that ceases. Relax, watch the breath, and observe reactions: a narrative of events in the mind. Seeing it happening as I’m going along; emotions rising and falling like sailing over these large waves on the sea. Stormy thoughts rise up and activate the red light: stop thinking! There’s the experience of intense contraction in the mind and immediately there’s the insight into letting go of it, drop that one now. Back to watching the breath again.

Lose track of time and later I check my watch and realize it has taken about an hour to reach the check-in desk where I have to show my passport and get the space on the plane I paid for. Then it’s done, I’m processed, got boarding pass, making my way through the multitudes, contemplating thoughts on an archetype of Asian migrations and, always, there are 500 people in front. At the toilets 500 people ahead of me, into immigration and the continuing capacity flow of 500 people is passing through. In the larger departure areas there’s an ocean of people as far as the eye can see, and at my gate, again 500. Flight is boarding and the capacity of the plane is around 500. Take off and all 500 of us mind/body units are airborne…

Airline staff serves the meal, feeding the five hundred – sounds biblical. Through the window, sky, clouds, and the surface of the planet. It makes me feel like a tiny speck of life, a microscopic cell. The body is allotted a space in a chair moulded to fit, takes up volume and weight. The body composed of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air, is something like a car battery, positive and negative poles, chemical reactions, and the mind is the energy that comes from that, the nama-rupa compound. Who ‘I’ am is not important, and the idea that it is ‘something’ (it is ‘me’) is a concept, a digital display that comes with the software. The whole thing is more like ‘process’, a connectedness on every level. Origin unknown, just believing in an external creator doesn’t seem to be it – the only reason that comes to mind is my own Christian conditioning as a child. I need to investigate this. The metaphor helps me to transcend my existing situation, figures of speech; other than that it’s all speculative conjecture. How can I see it in any other way? Anything else beyond this present conscious state must be so remote from what I presently know that none of the rules I’m familiar with apply. I’m in awe – I simply don’t know….


‘… radiant emptiness should not be mistaken for the pure emptiness of Nibbana. The two are as different as night and day. The radiant mind is the original mind of the cycle of constant becoming; but it is not the essence of mind which is fully pure and free from birth and death. Radiance is a very subtle, natural condition whose uniform brightness and clarity make it appear empty. This is your original nature beyond name and form. But it is not yet Nibbana. It is the very substance of mind that has been well-cleansed to the point where a mesmerizing and majestic quality of knowing is its outstanding feature. When the mind finally relinquishes all attachment to forms and concepts, the knowing essence assumes exceedingly refined qualities. It has let go of everything – except itself. It remains permeated by a fundamental delusion about its own true nature. Because of that, the radiant essence has turned into a subtle form of self without you realizing it. You end up believing that the subtle feelings of happiness and the shining radiance are the unconditioned essence of mind. Oblivious to your delusion, you accept this majestic mind as the finished product. You believe it to be Nibbana, the transcendent emptiness of pure mind.’ [Luangta Maha Boowa]

photo image, dreamstime: http://www.dreamstime.com/pier-free-stock-photography-imagefree198297

a handle to hold on to

201020121489Chiang Mai: Going to the airport in a tuktuk through a network of small streets. It’s probably a shortcut, but all these speed bumps? I’m feeling a bit queezy, seasickness must be like this. Or is it just that I’m surprised to be rolling up and over joyful little mountains. First the front wheel then the back wheels (three-wheeled vehicle), again and again; overkill on speed bumps. Sure enough it makes you feel giddy, all the ups and downs and I don’t ‘like’ it much but my wanting it to not be like this is making it into an issue. It’s a control thing, it’s about the so-called ‘me’. ‘I’ am the problem because, in fact, there’s nothing here; a body-mind mechanism that can process and transform data, the Five Khandas, that’s all. Nobody at home, no ‘self’ anatta, no-thingness. Only namarupa responses, natural processes and the feeling of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ arises due to the curious nature of sensory experience – this game of hide-and-seek, and the flip-side of concealment is revelation?

Maybe so but first things first, at this point in time I’m having an acute bout of speed-bump nausea and the small discomfort of it is in the centre of consciousness. Some basic sense informs me it’s a mistake to try to reject it or think it shouldn’t be there, I’d be better to get around to accepting it; the 1st Noble Truth, a deep acceptance that causes the ‘holding’ to ease off and there’s definitely something about this teaching; if you can understand it, the suffering disappears. The first time I came to see it, all kinds of habitual ‘holding’ that had bothered me for years just fell away. Gratitude to the Ajahns in Thailand for their guidance. It seems to me now though, there’s still something I’m not getting here? I’d been thinking that all the Theravadin masters are teaching, in their tremendous intensity and detail, is mindfulness about what you’re doing and the skill of letting-go. Beyond that there’s nothing said except the reference to it as the ‘deathless’.

‘When meditators practise correctly and have the discernment to see that quality (of deathlessness) as it really is, the result is that they can withdraw their attachments from all things — including their attachment to the discernment which enters in to see the quality as it really is. The practice of all things good and noble is to reach this very point.’ (Ajahn Thet)

Non-duality teachers talk about pure consciousness in the sense of something tangible; they’re saying there’s something ‘there’. The ‘I’ that is arising is the ‘I’ of everything. Theravadin Buddhists, on the other hand, are saying it can’t be like that; it’s emptiness – if you think there’s something there, it’s a handle to hold on to and the whole thing is about letting go, not holding on. So, today I’m thinking it’s helpful to have the stability of that ‘thing’ and I’m holding on; I want there to be something in that space, a sense of familiarity, it’s a known place and the sick feeling can be happening in an awareness that’s much larger than the confines of the cramped ‘self’. No little ‘me’ having to cope with it, the speed-bump nausea is not ‘mine’, no ownership, it’s not personal.’ It’s about learning how to be a totally open presence, aware of the way the ‘self’ perpetuates itself – on all levels and not buying into that.

A short while after that, thankfully, we get out of the narrow streets, small intersections, and onto the open space of a smooth, flat, easy highway in one long straight route across to the airport….