when words run out

POSTCARD#275: Bangkok: I don’t remember much about the flight except for the continuity of monsoon rain from Delhi and flying through it at 600 mph – between raindrops, then above the rain clouds where it is always blue sky. Descending again into the rain over the edge of Burma and the north of Thailand. From there, a taxi into town. Slow moving traffic, floodwaters  slosh around under the floor of the car alarmingly. I ask the driver if there’s been a lot of rain and he says not much.

But before that, there was a moment sitting on the aircraft when I became startled by the presence of my hands; left hand held in right – one the mirror image of the other. So I search for a pen and write this example of duality down in my notebook, and disturbed further when I see the left hand lying there by itself, fingers curled inwards, as if asleep. To whom does this hand belong? Maybe, in this crowded space, someone sitting behind me left it there, or does it belong to “me”? That edgy feeling.

When words run out, there’s only the silence left behind… raindrops dripping somewhere. Metaphor becomes reality, water finds its own level, everything seeps through the barriers I build to keep it out. Close the door on reality and it comes in through the window. Polarizations, ‘good or bad’, or whatever in a library of reversals, schisms and splits. It’ll be two years in September with this constant headache, and truth be told, part of me is still in denial, inventing reasons why I don’t want to admit the headache is part of me.

The fact is I’m on the run, putting distance between me and the thought I’ll be with it for the rest of my days. “(The) mind’s ear, hearing what it’s feeling, substituting imagination for the lack of investigation” – as HK says, and although time would be better spent with pain management exercises, it’s pain treatment I’m after… seeking the one-size-fits-all drug that sends the pain away.

I stumble over the reluctance to have it in my life. Things seem to get in the way, obstacles created in the mind – at the best of times it’s like this. Rain in Bangkok, the same rain 30 years ago when I arrived. The confusion and bewilderment then and even now, I’ll find myself facing a Thai reality; culturally remote, aware of what I know, but what I don’t know works better. Dismayed by a world I’m unfamiliar with – no kidding, the absolute honesty of it, and somehow that’s it. Done. All of it is seen, the perception of it revealed – no such thing as a headache.

Events have a momentum of their own; it’s Tuesday and I’m lying in a university hospital downtown Bangkok, prepped for the PRF surgery. Communication problems mean I don’t know much about the procedure that’s about to happen; I may or may not be told, it may or may not be painful. One thing I know, the operation will watched by a number of resident doctors, and their question/answer dialogue with the professor who stands over the patient guinea pig with an electric needle – what am I letting myself in for? There is only the capacity to be open to experience and it’s this that defeats fearsome images unfolding in the mind.
Time I wasn’t here…


photo: sculpture at New delhi Airport

incredible lightness of being

POSTCARD#274: New Delhi: about the permanent headache, the anaesthesiologist lady in the white room says there’s another kind of treatment available: Pulsed RadioFrequency (PRF), so I could consider this rather than coping with the pain by self-medication. The new procedure stuns the nerve that’s causing the pain. Agreed, let’s fix it for 25th July, and all of a sudden with some degree of excitement I’m looking forward to a major change in my life.

That was then, this is now. I got the flight back to New Delhi from Bangkok, all the usual rumble tumble and really, what’s all the fuss about, I don’t feel the pain as much now as I did at the beginning, nearly two years ago. The meds give me a space where there is almost no pain at all. The lingering ‘mind’ aspect of the pain (that re-minds me about other things to do with the pain) is pushed out of the way due to a particular attitude/ focus of mind that doesn’t find it interesting to be with these associated shadows of mind.

Forgetting, of course, the deep stabs of pain, which penetrate, like long steel blades, and there are no meds to make that go away, ringing the urgency bell in the dark morning of an environment that seems bleak, unforgiving, and just BAD. Anxiety and despondency, the evolving stages of pain and confusion in between, and retracing my steps that seem to have once brought me to a place of peace, like entering a room within a room, and there’s a door leading to another room and so on, until I’d forgotten which room was which, with no plan or diagram showing how it came back to the present time. Why? I think that somewhere along the line I must have said to myself, enough is enough, this’ll do! And a large chunk of it (The ‘rooms inside rooms’) was erased from memory completely. So now there’s no finding my way back to there and then, how it was before all this happened.

The meds seemed to be as much a problem as the headaches; the nightmarish Alice in Wonderland bottle with the label saying: DRINK ME appears and long after that experience I’d wake up in the morning, roll over on the pillow and it felt like I drank too much wine the night before, but I don’t drink any alcohol at all (unrelated: that’s another story) whatever, like a light that shines in the darkness, I’m a meditator; early Buddhism/ the lineage of Ajahn Chah.

The headaches have ricocheted through these quiet spaces so much I’ve had to expand the boundaries to include mind states that are more like contemplation than focused meditation. Every time I gratefully fall into the meditative state of mind, it feels like I’ve been away from here for such a long time… returning to the knower, the fundamental mind, addressing the objects of the mind, thoughts, and phenomena arising in the mind. Staying there with this incredible lightness of being, and happy enough to not reach out much more than that.

Right View and Suffering, okay once I’d gotten rid of the adversity attachment (note to self: this will change too). Now there’s an opportunity to know the pain is likely to ease with this new ‘procedure’, I’m into this new stage of what’s happening with this headache and the degrees of focus, (no-one seems to know) leading to the confusion again, the kind that had to go away, away and get out of here – not thinking at all that the desire to get-rid-of-it is the same as the desire to-have-it. Polarizations, there’s no difference between ‘out’ and ‘in’, good or bad’, and so much more. So I have to let it in through the barrier I built. Let it go and let it in, try that and see… close the door that wasn’t open to it.


PIcture at top: A wall painting in Bangkok’s Suwannabume airport

the train to the north

POSTCARD #267: Newcastle-Inverness journey: Head spinning with ear-popping air pressures and momentum of the great storm that brought me here. The travel industry is the largest network in the world. Miles of corridors, two planes, Delhi/ Amsterdam/ Newcastle and the train to the North. Everything is linked with everything else – absolutely everything… who runs it all? (is there a God?) Inappropriate question; taxis, escalators, the spinning flow of it just moving along by itself. I jump on a train to Scotland and join the others already there. Get my seat, and we’re all swept away by these huge mountain scenes passing through the train, opening up in the windows, then changing to the next picture.

Train arrives at my stop, a small town I visited when I was a kid, long ago and far away. I feel like a stranger now, my whole reason for being here is to visit the boy. I could be one of the three wise men flying in from the East to visit the child (why did they do that?), except I’m the only one… a wise man nobody has ever heard of, bearing gold, myrrh and frankincense (the story goes), and other assorted gifts, including Chawanprash, an Ayurvedic health food for the parents. Ring doorbell, hello everyone, well the boy is asleep now is he then? Okay, never mind, he will wake up soon.

Twenty minutes spent chatting with mom and dad, then sure enough, enter stage right, stumbling into the spotlight… a one-and-a-half year-old, fair-skinned, wide-eyed, blond boy, new to the world. And all I can see when I look at him, are the faces of the elders (recently passed) flickering through identities in his face, the enigma, in recognition of me being here (I never attended their funerals)? The boy is shy about me in his living room, turns this way and that, bright colours of toy objects, he is a shining presence, moving in the actuality of it…the IS-ness of it.

I’m astonished. He is all of it; the elders faces I see in profile who look back at me when the boy moves his head. Short glimpses of aunts and uncles I haven’t seen for so long, now dead and gone, and it’s as if they were really ‘here’, having become the form of this small boy. If I say they are real, then they are. Their eyes looking out of his small face. Identity… where does it begin? The child is father to the man, they’re looking at me as if waiting for something to happen… birth is a turning inside-out and an embodiment in a physical being – we are all so unaware of it, only the Old Souls who have been here and travelled through this gate many times can see how it really is.

Everything happening without language to give it form, so it cannot be remembered, and of course this sweet boy is unaware of any kind of story about me, the only uncle on his mother’s side… and when he’s old enough to understand that, it’ll be too late! I’ll not be able to be here to say hello, my nephew, and this is the story of how the World works… I feel an urgency, I should write this post in such a way that he will find it one day (message in a bottle), and thus understand the World much more clearly than I. He will find words for it, I feel sure, which can immediately express and bring into reality these hesitant forms of mine, shadows of a former time.

So, it was all a wonderful returning to one’s own sense of ‘selfhood’, seen in the boy – a dream-state set in the context of my being awake. We have no children of our own – sad, so sad. There’s something about this that’s so clear and obvious, then I lose it, and it can never be found, because searching for it creates the sense of it being lost, for ever and ever….


Image: Dreamstime.com

the forever turning

POSTCARD #263: New Delhi: House agent came to the door, saying they are going to demolish the building, and when would be a good time for the architect to come to see the house – it was said like how we decide to delete a message on the phone. We knew about the plan and are prepared, but the emphatic bluntness of it…  what’s gone is gone, the forever turning wheel. “Don’t let the sun go down on me.” My world is tipping over, mind driven by some kind of energy, a curiosity and desire to get involved with it. Words come out grouped in chunks, searching for a connection as if they had a volition of their own.

The characteristic mind reaction when confronted with an immutable truth; when I understood that my PHN headache is a permanent condition. As Jude says, the mind is creative no matter what the stimuli. Imagination let loose like a racehorse, goes careering off then is yanked back unwillingly and all kinds of fearful things arise, created by the struggle. How to have mindfulness so I can catch that creative awareness before I get hijacked by how bad it seems.

World-wide monitoring of events, immediate media coverage, on the spot reporting in a here-and-now performance starring ‘he’ who is about to be demolished: boom, crash, bang! It’s finished before it began, the whole scene gets folded into itself and packed away, gone – like it never happened, no evidence remains. Grab the bags and let’s get out of here. ‘I’ become ‘him’ over there, third person singular, object pronoun, making an escape out the window before the walls cave in. Away in the car through a swirling cloud of masonry brick dust, and onto the long straight road to the airport.

Check-in for the overnight flight to Bangkok and the day after tomorrow I go to see the lady doc down-town in the white room (link to: Finding The Way Out), to discuss, again, the possibility of an electrical zap to the nerve and that’ll be the end of my constant headaches. Comparison with the stand-off in the Korean peninsula… I’d like it if the whole thing could be put on fast-forward so I can get it over and done with, but it hasn’t even started yet. I’m here on the plane and in my mind, are pictures of a house falling down around my ears.

The flight is a directionless experience. Look out the window, total darkness, no sense of moving forward, we could be flying sideways. When I try to think of it, there’s the image of a journey that leads from here to there, the route we take is an elevated highway in the sky, we’re in a long silver night coach with the moon and stars and stewardesses with the drinks trolley. Occasional air turbulence suggests small bumps on an otherwise very smooth road surface – sufficient to tip me over and fall asleep, with not even the sense that we’re going anywhere… just the noise of the engines and hiss of the air.

The present moment is not an absolute. It’s something that we’re [unconsciously] fabricating, and the goal of the practice is to learn how to fabricate it in a new [nirvanic] direction…. The present is here to be used, and the teachings are here to teach us how to use it wisely” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “The Use of the Present,” 2016-11-28]


photo by Jiab in the South of Thailand

finding the way out

POSTCARD #254: Bangkok: The story of it is I went downtown to a government hospital to see a well-known anesthesiologist, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015, in the hope that, aside from more needles and what-have-you, ablation? I’d discover the right way to switch it off. And to cut a long story short – getting through all the underground labyrinths and corridors, crowds and noise and waiting 5 hours with my headache being as it is, although for the most part, staying with mindful attention – I was finally in a white room with her, dressed in white, and three residents in white too.

Blinking in this dazzling clarity, I was asked all kinds of questions I’d never been asked before. Really it was just one question she was asking me and that was, how far do you want to go with this? Like a fairy godmother, she gave me new, stronger meds, saying try this before getting into these other procedures and treatments. So yes, I went home, took the meds and suddenly the headache got switched off. Hooray!

Wake up next morning and the headache is back. Oh no! Take the new meds and it gets switched off again. Hooray! There have been other times when it has switched off like this, but now there’s definitely a feeling that something else has changed too. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have done for a long time, why?

And I begin to focus and see it’s because of a new kind of acceptance I learned about (indirectly?) from the lady in the white room. She was saying, in so many words, okay I admire you for the effort you’ve gone to in coming to this place, but realize that we’re getting down to worst case scenario levels here; this where we DESTROY THE NERVE and it’s done in two procedures…

But I wasn’t listening, I’d just bounced right out of there thinking maybe I can live without this ‘procedure’. No needles or RFAs (radiofrequency ablation), ‘a minimally invasive procedure.’ There’s this electric needle and it goes in and precisely zaps the nerve. If that doesn’t work then we can put in another needle… but no-no-no, I was running away in my mind, ok, ok, what other options are there?

So I was back where I started and it was giving me a headache just thinking about it! Acceptance, looking more carefully into the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. Finding the way out of Suffering begins when we let go of the craving that feeds it. An easing of the suffering of mind that takes place by seeing it is caused by holding on to… whatever, the longing for impossible things. Yep, what is causing this? To see what it is I need to accept that it’s there, the giving way to it the frank actuality of it. That was an eye-opener. Finding the way out of the Suffering in the mind means seeing the cause for what it is, a complex attachment/ resistance tied up with the suffering itself. Unravel the knot let go of the whole dang thing, and that’s the way out.

What to do? Train the mind to live with the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, and I’m better equipped to accept the headache being there. Or go and see the lady in the white room and her worst case scenario ‘procedures’.

“… suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense—to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight. [Ken Wilbur]


 

place

dsc_1977_00049POSTCARD #251: Bangkok: Sodium-orange street light illuminates tarmac and concrete in colourless shades of grey. Nothing to see at this time of day, on the road to get the 3am flight to Bangkok, awake as if in a daze, car headlights pierce the smoggy darkness in low visibility. Everything creeps in on itself, reduces in size… I am a cell in an organism, tumbling out of the car and into the crowd. Bags on trolley, head spinning around for signs in the usual urgency of searching for where I’m supposed to be, everyone else doing exactly the same thing; check in, boarding pass, queue for security, then immigration. Stamp passport, thump, duty-free, then boarding and take off… catapulted 5 miles up into the night sky, look out and see a few stars shining. No one interested in food or drinks on this raggedy old, middle of the night, flying bus to Bangkok. Large, long-legged Indian men, block up the aisles with limbs like tree branches, trying to get comfortable in the small Thai economy class seats.

In my place, eyes closed and there’s that wonderful light coming in at the edge of vision that I haven’t seen for a long time – a kind of unreal ‘heavenly’ warm creamy white moonlight light. Open my eyes again… where’s it coming from… any light on in here? Nope, totally dark. Close my eyes again, lying back, watch the breath, focus on the emptiness… in a moment it returns. Not seen, indirect, it illuminates the space as if it were a moon behind clouds, just about to appear.

I sleep as long as it takes for a neon tube light to be switched off, and switched on again, flicker, wake up, it’s blue sky morning time. Such a short distance from here to there, some people go home for the weekend. Glad I don’t have to do that, I stay where I am for as long as possible these days – some inconveniences, maybe I’m looking for a book and it’s just not there. I can see it in the mind’s eye, but it’s not ‘there’ in this house, it’s ‘there’ in the other house, nearly two thousand miles away. So I reach out my arm stretching like an elastic band, stretching and stre-etching… get the book, and pyang-ng-ng, back to where I am. Well, nowadays everything is on the ‘cloud’ so it doesn’t matter where you are – although I’m aware, there is ‘place’, the sense of the body grounded.

Out of the plane, expanding into normal shape, inflating back into size in the long walk to immigration , passport stamp, thump! Bags arrive, car into town and the day just morphs into shape, heat, dazzling brightness, and time difference is 1½ hours later. The feeling you arrived before you left… a quirky strangeness in the corridors of time. I’m not able to see the actuality of my situation in the midst of experiencing it, unless it’s something that gets my attention, usually I’ll reflect on it later – ‘later’ arrives and the hindsight of that recent past is forgotten. Flying time does this, I notice, not a scrap of it remains, except for a few words to my future self, scribbled on the back of the boarding pass: When time and space and change converge, we find place. We arrive in Place when we resolve things. Place is peace of mind and understanding. Place is knowledge of self. Place is resolution. [Abdullah Ibrahim]


Photo: Win Sein Taw Ya Reclining Buddha, Mawlamyine, Burma [dinksintransit.com]

valentine 2017 falling in love again

interior_of_lotus_templePOSTCARD #250: New Delhi: Completely blown away at the Bahá’í Lotus Temple with the monk, Bodhinando – and it could be that an experienced young meditator like him, now entering the world for the first time after 5 years of intense practice, was just giving off this unseen bliss and harmony when sitting in meditation. Or it could be the dome itself, the amazing acoustics with fragments of birdsong, trills, chirps and whistles from the high windows up there; acrobatics of sound echoing 40 meters above our heads.

When we started the sit, I was struggling with head pain and didn’t think I could do it… pressure over the right eye. I couldn’t get up and leave without disturbing others, so the only way out was ‘in’. I tried getting focused on the in-breath/ out-breath, but the mind scampered away, again and again like a playful puppy. I persevered with it, over and over, did my best but in the end, gave up, or it might be better said that I gave in; whatever… ready to get up and go. But, just then, things started happening, triggered by that decisive acceptance, release of tension, and a huge enfoldment began, with everything tipping over, collapsing into a gentle falling.

A slow-mo picture of what happens when falling off the top of a tall building and the fun aspect of it is there’s no ground down below. Pieces of thought imagery flying past me in the fall, some are on the same level as the whole thing remains in free fall like this. It was a giving-in to it, a kind of birthing, a relinquishing, transitioning, and a swoon, a falling in love again, again.

The fall was without gravity; direction ‘down’ had no particular meaning, nor was ‘up’ or ‘through’. I use word ‘me’ object, and ‘I’ subject, as location points in the description of the event, and not as me, the Person walking around in the world. In the slow spinning enfolding through all directions and dimensions, the ‘I’ aspect was everywhere, all around, above and below, and inside and including the ‘me’, the Person who is normally separate, walking around in the world.

Then there was a small noise, and in response I opened my eyes; a shocking brightness of the here-and-now… what’s happening? Some people were leaving and the rustling of their clothing had drawn my attention. Closed my eyes again and the inner enfolding sensation was still there. It continued like this and when we left I carried it with me, looked at my watch and maybe an hour had passed, completely enthralling.

The word is Jhana perhaps; there was a familiarity about it. I must have experienced this years ago, and knew how to just go with it and when the opportunity arose, I gave up (gave in), relaxed the intensity, and everything was enfolded in the fall. As we were walking in the huge grounds surrounding the place, I was describing the thing with Bodhinando and asking him about it. I remember he looked at me once with small smile, and didn’t reply. Then I was going to ask him again later but forgot what the question was…

1-1Love is everywhere on Saint Valentine’s Day (and every day). Upper picture: the interior of the Lotus Temple, click on this link for more from Wikipedia. Photo above: Heart shape in the folds of a blue towel our taxi driver had placed on his seat in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, North India… and Marlene Dietrich from 1930, falling in love again.

finding suññatā in Lucknow

16maya3POSTCARD #249: Lucknow, North India: A short flight from Delhi brought us here, hired car to the Ambedkar Memorial Park. A vast space of nothing but polished marble flooring – no trees, no earth left uncovered. Two and a half acres of marble paving rising in a gentle slope, with some monuments and an avenue with hundreds of life size elephants carved in stone.

The panorama of it, an oasis-mirror-like flatness as far as the eye can see; a heaven realm… hold that thought, from two thousand five hundred years back in the distant past, comes rushing towards us now, into present time, 2017, the Buddha’s First Noble Truth – as valid as it was all these centuries ago.

‘The Noble Truth of Suffering’, yes, I’ve been wondering what that bad feeling was, gnawing away at the innards… the urgency of the human condition applies to everything I can possibly experience or do, or think concerning the past, the present or the future. The relief is in knowing the Buddha has a name for it.

That’s what it is, situated at the heart of everything, caused by the constant craving for something, anything that’ll satisfy a created hunger; the yearning for it not to be like this, please, no, I want it to be better than this. Thus, relentlessly on the run from what we don’t want it to be, towards what we want it to be; that just-out-of-reach object, or state of mind, or any way of seeing it, by any means possible.

This great marble-floored landscape of Ambedkar Park is exhausting; it needs to have something immense in it. The sense is of something huge that’s missing perhaps. Or is that what it’s intended to be? Can’t think, there’s nowhere to sit, then we see a marble bench over there, so we head towards that and stop for a rest. Thinking still of those who are caught in the conundrum of chasing foreverness, conditioned by society into this way of thinking.

dr-bhim-rao-ambedkar-samajik-parivartan-sthal-in-lucknow-images-8-1Now I’m in fear of this floor dissolving under our feet into a lake of water, grasping at anything and everything, but I’m sinking anyway. Then I see something I can hold on to coming towards me as if it were a boat… but it’s not a boat, it’s dry land, so it must be me who’s on the boat. Step on to this small island… a space opens in the mind: this must be the neither-here-no-there place… this gentle detachment from things, neutrality, “the middle way”… and I find there’s room enough to see how I can think about what a thought feels like without getting involved in the content of it. Flames of desire flash all around but do no harm. Allowing it all to ‘become’ without becoming it. Recognizing the sense of self without that solitary aloneness of the enclosed ‘me’.

There’s just this huge space, maybe one day filled to capacity with the ‘many crores’ (millions) of people gathered here, to be part of this vision of Shakyamuni Buddha as a political and social reformer. According to Ambedkar, a person’s unfortunate conditions are not only the result of karma or ignorance and craving, but do also result from “social exploitation and material poverty – the cruelty of others.”

Until that happens, there’s only the empty space, a sense of the vast no-thingness, suññatā.


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Top photo source, with Gratitude. Centre photo source, with Gratitude. Lower photo, the author with two Theravadin Monks at Ambedkar Park. In the centre Thai, on the right India.
~  G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E  ~

the days are running out

img_0459POSTCARD #247: New Delhi: “The days are running out”, Jiab says, in her improvised, short-cut English, and I imagine the days like small objects with legs, running out through the open door, down the step and escaping into the garden. It’s February already and we’re going back to Thailand on the 18th. Visas to be renewed, stamped, and the hurriedness of getting bags checked in. Then join the queue shuffling through security portals and on to the plane. I have to fast track but still in slo-mo… hard to get my head together; not ready, unwilling and not able.

Am I prepared for another catapulted leap up into the sky? One hundred thousand horsepower velocity, wings over the landscape, look out the window and see the mountains through the clouds down below. I want to go there, climb that mountain. So I go down to where it is and start to climb… but it’s not there; only the steep slope, and sparse vegetation, some rocks – the mountain has disappeared. Is it that mountains seem to disappear, as well as the days spent engaged in activities just start to run out because this is my 70th year in the world?

Is it because I learned that the vast abundance of the Buddhist no-self is everywhere, in everything? Looking at a thing and the identity of it being a thing is just gone. Slowly, slowly getting to be okay about that, and okay too about not having to want to know anything more than that. The smallest details of conscious awareness, and a lifetime of sensory input, all arising and passing away, associated somehow with the karma of the circumstances I’m in, without attachment and nothing is held, it just folds in on itself and sent like a letter to someone you love.

No end, no beginning, sometimes I can leave it all in the continuous form of the verb: breathing, eating, sleeping, and living ‘now’ in present-moment-awareness… beginningless, endless, all of the past, all of the future, and no “time” passing. Then it breaks free of that and returns to a beginning (so there has to be an end)… and there lies my reluctance, only ten good years… the days are running out. A story is created in the mind, a few pieces get stitched together, switched around, and let’s say this is how it began; a story inside a story (inside a story) leading back through all the previous moments like this and linked to a lineage of stories interconnected through a great number of former lives in the distant past. And all of that has resulted in this; a twinkling held in forever-present time.

The days are running out, language wakes up – I want, I want, I want to be ‘happy’, and I don’t want to be ‘sad’ – no, no, no. Creating a self where there wasn’t one before, and rushing around, naming things, describing things, creating a photo ID. Sign here please, thump, stamped and there’s a picture of ‘me’. Then other days just come along, as they do, with a light that chases all the shadows away and illuminates everything… this is how all the beginnings are connected up: ‘Once upon a time’… il était une fois, (it was once), ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’

Clouds come by from time to time
To give men a chance to rest
From looking at the moon
[Basho (1644-94)]


Photo: Buddha head at Dhammavinaya Buddhārāma Monastery, Hubli, Karnataka State, India.
~   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   ~

 

all that is born

img_3877POSTCARD #244: New Delhi: Early morning light, people wrapped in shawls, long scarves bound around the head and tied under the chin. Dark faces, eyes looking out and they see me for an instant in a diamond eye-lock as I struggle to look away. They look with curiosity; I think they see me as one of those lost in maya, not in the real world for them, I’m living in a dream. They might laugh to themselves, but not in a hurtful way – I’m pretty sure they see me as a naïve person, like a grown up child, dependent on support mechanisms I pay for with an impossible wealth, as far as they’re concerned, removed from everyday values. They’re right, from where they stand. It’s true, and I’m in awe of them, their existence is unreachable. The actuality of their lives, I know nothing about. My ongoing practice of ‘self’/’no-self’ investigation, and awareness of awareness reflecting upon itself, is maybe something they know about so completely and utterly that if I were to ask the right question, I’d be swept away in the tidal wave of their wisdom. A received knowledge from generations past, centuries and thousands of years for them is the same as today, an ordinary reality.

Inside the dark interior of their houses, I see shadows moving in the dim light of an old-style incandescent 25-watt bulb, flickering in unsteady current, candles, oil lamps and small cooking fires. Pots and plates, carefully placed on the stones outside to dry in the open air, and I feel these things should be inside the house, in a plate rack in a drawer inside a cupboard, which closes with a magnetic door-fastener click.

A pregnant woman gazes at me for a moment as I go by; deep eyes, there’s something supernatural about this woman. I look away. Everything in this neighborhood is alien to me. The houses all look like they’re only partly built. Bare brick walls and there’s one incomplete upper floor, or some part of the house seemingly under construction. I heard it’s because they don’t have to pay tax if the house is still ‘being built.’ These half-built houses are everywhere; a family living on the ground floor and upstairs there are bare brick walls reaching up like pillars with just the sky where the roof should be. There’s an underlying uneasiness about it all, it seems to me, inadequate shelter, no protection, and a fierce tenacity of holding on to life.

There are others in more hazardous circumstances, street people and those with no dwellings at all, the dispossessed. Beyond that the sadhus, bearded men with matted hair in yellow robes, colored pigment smeared across the forehead, incense and candle-wax – hovering in a kind of other dimension – a living statement that all that is born, ceases. We die because we were born, there’s birth and death in every moment. So obvious, but almost all of the time I can’t see it.

Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot,
a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring,
stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth,
a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo,
hushed like a tree.
[Death Alone by Pablo Neruda]


Photo by Melinda Ruck
~ G R A T I T U D E ~