on the way to the beach at Hua Hin

Episode1

It was thought to be a special break for me after the fasting and then the anesthetic was over and the results of the MRI scan were given the next morning: I had no brain tumors, no signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other danger signs. You will have guessed that I’m one of those who suffer claustrophobia if I’m in an enclosed space only inches from my face. So I managed the MRI scan with an anesthetist on hand monitoring levels while I was out of the picture having been given a general anesthetic. So I woke in the recovery room with a bottle of drinking water and happy because I knew it was over. The MRI scan is that thing that takes photos of your brain every 5 mm, you could say it looks like slices of meat from the butchers shop 5 mm thick which you can examine in detail.

The next day dawned and the news was ok, no life-threatening conditions, but there was a little black spot, on the right side of the brain – think of Google Earth and one of these small islands you can zoom in on and see all the mountains and rivers and forests… but it wasn’t as clear as that unfortunately the resolution wasn’t that good.

The question is, what is it? What caused the spot? And the answer is, it was the marks left behind when the patient has suffered a small stroke … a small stroke, quite common they say, among elderly patients – and there was I thinking I might be a special case or something.

It was quite likely I had lost my balance around that point in time. And I can fix that within a month or two because Jiab told me when she noticed the difference in my walking gait… it was say, November December 2018 just after the fall in Ch’mai, click ‘the big bang’ for the link

Episode 2

One day before the departure car to the beach at Hua Hin, and not connected with the MRI scan, a relative from the South I hardly ever see came to visit; in-laws from that part of the community who live on the edge of the jungle – some would say ‘rural’, others say ‘remote’. Money is not usually exchanged for goods and services. Farm produce has its own value, also herbs, wild plants with medicinal properties. What is owed is given and taken according to the size, or lineage of the debt. Their loyalties do not include anything we (in the ordinary world) would immediately recognize, so there’s a tendency to leave it at that and it all gets soon forgotten about.

That’s why I never followed it up, you know, just because it was kinda interesting and the only time I’d ever hear about this side of the family was/is when someone comes to Bangkok, like this, for something to do with Government papers, or land documents. And this was the reason for the visit; spend the night at the house leave early morning to do the business and catch the afternoon train down South again.

But it was all done too fast! I was told about the lady we shall call P coming about 10 minutes before she arrived, no time to think… then I remembered her mum had passed away recently and maybe I should offer some words of condolences or something but what to say?

I heard her voice downstairs and was thinking I should go down but just then a shadow flickered past my open door – no eye contact, it was the lady we shall call P, putting travelling bag away in the room next to me where she was for the night. The sound of water splashing then silence. I had nearly forgotten she was there, when suddenly she stood in my doorway. An ordinary face unremarkable hair. “Ah hello P, “ I said, and she respectfully greeted me as they all do these days, me with the white hair, beard of the elderly and nearness to death.

“I was sorry to hear about your mum Khun Meh…” and P moved to acknowledge the reference, or whatever it is that they hold so dear, and it was to do with this mystery because, just then, something quite strange happened. A bolt of energy hit me in the chest and also her, the lady we shall call P… I saw her crouch over and fall back away from me.

But who’s to say, it was all in shadow, we couldn’t see clearly and all I felt was the awkwardness of being found in a place I shouldn’t be. We went downstairs together, Jiab poured us some sweet drinks at the table and bit by bit the feeling disappeared. The lady P gave me a small book about her mother’s life printed simply and given to everyone who was at the funeral.

That’s it, it was done. So I left them talking together and went upstairs, preoccupied with: “Who is this person I hardly know and what are these goings-on?” Later on I spoke to Jiab and she played down the drama of events, while at the same time, conceding that all and everything was as it was and accepting that it happened as I’d described it.

All I can think is that I hardly knew her and her mother even less. I wasn’t expected in that context and this electric charge clicked the door closed.

Fine with me, no problem, my fault, I shouldn’t have started something I couldn’t finish. I’d like it all to go away now because maybe it was the other way round; the electric charge was something that pulled me rather than pushed me away. I’m definitely not inclined to like this idea, and would be glad if the whole thing could get or got or have got or had gotten itself forgotten about…

“Fear of death is ridiculous, because as long as you are not dead you are alive, and when you are dead there is nothing more to worry about!”

[Paramahansa Yogananda]


 

the imaginary middle step

POSTCARD#350: Bangkok: Note: I started to write this post on 6th July because it was my birthday. Pretty soon it came to be too much of a revelatory thing to suit a simple chorus of Happy Birthday To You, but this is how it is, we live in strange times.

Seems to me, that Mind makes up a reason for things being the way they are, arbitrarily. It just comes out of nowhere. The mysterious and slightly sinister thing about this is that I (self) allowed it to get to be this way, knowing fully it would lead to lamentation, woe and bad destinations.

I remember it was at the time I started writing things down on scraps of paper because of the hellish stabbing headaches I’d get when typing text on a digital device and the infernal twinkle of blasted light frequencies going off like a flash of lightning in an electric storm… a deep stab in the eye, exactly in the optic nerve. No warning. And that whole thing against a backdrop of a 24 hour managed ‘headache’ held together with a tight regime of powerful meds dealing with neuropathic pain.

So I went back to writing on ordinary paper with dull pencil. I had to learn to write properly after decades of scribbling reference numbers and OTP, one time passwords and that’s all. Then, as the non-digital me, keying it all in with plain black text on a white background, and up into WordPress formatting then hit Publish… but more about that some other time.

What I’m trying to write about here has to do with the arbitrary decision to take a particular action, regardless of the obvious danger that may result. It all went wrong when I found one of these scraps of paper and on it was written something like, say less than one sentence; a note to self.

“the standard walking pattern suggests another step between left and right… left foot (step) right foot.”

Like a magic formula, as soon as I read it I remembered, the image of the middle step. Walking was more like a bumpy three-legged rolling unicycle wheel. Reckless is not the word – wildly irresponsible, when you think of Bangkok traffic going at maximum speed just inches away from the pedestrian zone. We are all expected to take responsibility whether driving car, truck, motorbike or walking, and that’s just the way it works.

Somehow I bypassed these cautionary warning signs and set out to boldly go and try my balance all over the place, while learning how to best cope with this new middle leg I’d integrated. Then there were these spectacular falls in public places. Spectacular because I’d more or less worked out a recovery that included the same ‘middle step’. Note to self: This recovery was imaginary although nearly always there was a reasonable recovery. So it all seemed like a dance, no serious injury at all… then there was the ‘big one’ and that brought everything to a standstill.

For nearly a year I forgot completely about the middle step, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to walk properly. It was that middle step that was causing balance problems and at the time I had no idea. The only safe place for me to walk was on the grass at public parks or airports where there is space all around. But I was bumping into people, besides it was not a ‘walk’ as we normally perceive ‘walking’. This was more like an imaginary Fred Astaire dance with the furniture than an attempt at walking. So someone suggested I get a wheelchair at airports and walk with a companion in ordinary environments.

Jiab says there is such a thing as occupational therapy where perhaps I can relearn those missing skills, so I will look into that. The biggest mystery is ‘the imaginary middle step’ and I’m referring to it now as something known, concrete, impossible. If I approach it obliquely I’m likely to wander off and fall in front of the traffic. Since finding that scrap of paper I notice anything to do with walking triggers the imaginary middle step.

 

the way things appear to be

POSTCARD#349: Bangkok: It’s been three years coping with this pain hovering over me night and day. In the beginning my life was dominated by the headache (referred to here as: H) but I’ve discovered all kinds of things in the process. One thing not to be taken lightly; I learned the steps that lead away from suffering as if it were a code built into consciousness.

Another thing of course the severity of pain is not the same as it was. Maybe the mind gets used to it and there’s not the same urgency. But one aspect of it still strikes the nerve system on the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder. It can be any screeching sound like chairs being dragged across the floor, in a concrete room.

Here in Thailand there are some women whose voices, in laughter, are… utterly shrill. For me it’s a high frequency sound weapon, it penetrates through the auditory sensory organs and becomes something no longer heard. It feels like cold steel. I have to leave the room immediately, jump out the window into the garden and a forward roll gets me to a waiting taxi and away from that place forever.

But before anything else, it was necessary for me to be aware of the thinking mind. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I needed to be aware of, how I think. I have to consciously take a step in that direction in order for things to have the momentum necessary to develop of their own accord.

So much of it is simply how it appears to be. The medicine plays tricks on me but I don’t pay it any mind. The effect begins to take place, H becomes non-hostile and becomes a tension band holding skull and neck muscles, tightly but secure. I can move away because there is nothing holding me. No pain. It’s detached, without a self to whom it would cause suffering. It’s the medicine that does this (necessary here to say). I put in these terms because that’s how it all seems to fit.

What is leftover is that part of the medicine that is the antidepressant. This is the place where I can gather up the mind, get it all in there, close the door, and melt into the darkness. From this comfortable place I can focus on the rest of the body/mind in a meditative way – an insightful contemplative state of mind.

As the years go by I see I’ve missed so much about the quantum world and how there seem to be groups of Buddhists who realise that we are consciousness itself. ‘When we rely on others to tell us their truth, we lose our power to actually realise pure spontaneous consciousness of independence.’

In the beginning I had to stay still for the medicine to have its effect. Nowadays I’m able to go around and just live with how it’s coming down. The large amount of medicine means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things – otherwise I’m okay.

‘see beyond the way things appear to be.’ Ajahn Munindo “Acceptance and Relinquishment” Volume 18

the calm meditator’s endeavor

POSTCARD#348: Bangkok: It’s been many months since I was an active meditator. The headache 24/7 pushed that out of reach. But I’m looking into ways of finding a direction into meditation from my memory of it. Thoughts return of course but I still have the calm meditator’s endeavor to escape from this prison realm to the extended spaces of meditation, and maybe I’ve found the way out.

No need to get rid of the thinking mind, just be aware of it; all the garbage about Donald Trump in YouTube videos, copies of segments from CNN and MSNBC. This has been a habitual thing for me – I’m sorry to say – but something tells me I’m not the only one. The news is, I’ve more or less found a way to say goodbye to this. Begin by stopping the videos in arbitrary places for long enough to forget the sequence of events, the story of it and the mind slips away into the silence.

This is Insight meditation, not necessarily Buddhist meditation you don’t have to be a Buddhist to do it. The intention is to gain insight. Follow the breathing and observe these long stretches of silence, thoughts return of course but I’m not going to prevent that from happening. The thinking mind goes on tumbling and falling, like dice showing the numbers that result. Then it changes to something totally different… let it! All I need to do is be aware that it’s there.

So I’ll continue with the ‘voice’ of the uninstructed meditator looking into the experience of self-hood running parallel to the ongoing description of events,

Who am I? Am I my thoughts, contained in here, in this body? Everything is happening ‘here’ – this ‘here-ness’ surrounds me everywhere I go. Out there is the rest of the world – but where does the ‘out there’ begin? Where does my here-ness end? Where’s the edge of it? An innate knowledge tells me I am more than the here-ness that surrounds me, I am all of it!

Too much to take on board right now…. a tornado of orderly chaos beyond my comprehension. I can’t get far enough back to see how the pattern is structured. I prefer to separate things, bit by bit and the familiarity of the thinking thing helps me to do that.

All that is required is I need to be aware of the content of thoughts and beware of the wayward thinking mind; the joys and sorrows. It’s been said so many times, watch out for the pitfalls, and the ground beneath my feet giving way to that whole nother thing.

And that could easily be the trump phenomenon, donalding around doing his thing in our collective consciousness, a toxic environment. It’s the things we love to hate. Tugged here and there, a captive audience. Living in constant anticipation of his next move; how he seems emboldened by some small event we thought would be the end of him but somehow it seems it has given him a little bit of political wiggle room.

Everything about the thinking mind rejects the image. I don’t want it to be like this! the only reason it has remained like this is a kind of habitual adherence to that unruly group of harmful thoughts. Use the thinking mind to be the gatekeeper. Clear out the thoughts, let them go – it’s been said so many times, switch off the TV, the devices, get unplugged. Disconnect… lose the signal, who cares?

So where are the edges that separate me from everything else out there? Is it the surface of my skin… does it end here? Is this the extent of myself? But on that nano-scale, the pores of the skin, a fluidity of stuff hurtling right through us, in and out, all the time. There’s electrons and neutrinos that are constantly zinging through us and everything else… how can it be?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72YbK9quS_c

Inspired by a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sucitto

entities

POSTCARD#347: Bangkok: I’m sitting in an armchair in front of the television; CNN & the Mueller Report. But the volume is mute; I’m not watching it. I don’t want all these Trumpian entities invading my quiet space. Sidestep that thought in the monkey-mind before we get hijacked by how bad it seems. Not my problem, you could say, I’m not a US citizen. I’m a Scotsman living in Thailand for more than thirty years, with almost nothing to hold on to. But I can feel the pain of America tearing itself apart; my heart is with you all my friends! Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away, for a moment; there’s just the in-breath, and the out-breath.

Sitting in a darkened room, and the story so far is that I’m having one of those substantial headaches I get from time to time, and I’ve taken all the meds I can take but to no avail. The tendency is to take more and more meds but that gets me in a worse place. The headache remains, fills my head with what feels like a huge metal spike. There’s only one thing I can do now, make my way to that little space in the body/mind where I know there’s some comfort to be found. I remember it from last time, get into that place, and hunker down… wait for the hours to pass.

[But where is that little place or space? It is an actual place near the groin, a Latin name I’ve forgotten – I just remember what it it feels like. Serious meditators know this; please send me some links in the comments below, thanks.]

I can search for it in the body/mind, by adjusting the way I sit slightly – leaning away from the seat of the chair until I’m balanced more on the edge. Somewhere during this time and space, the little place appears in the body/mind. Familiarity with how it feels, discovered in this new seated position; feet on floor, elbows on the arm rests, head inclined, as if asleep.

There are one or two instants when I think I must have gone to sleep, but did that happen ‘before’ or ‘after’? Where do I insert the ‘self’ that’s observing this? The body/mind remains in a loosely conscious state with large chunks of time missing and that’s good. This is not meditation, this is how to cope with a headache until it’s time for the next dose of meds… somewhere in future time. It’s the idea of continuity, I reach the end of a piece of time and take a huge leap towards what I believe is ‘next’. There’s nothing to confirm, verify, that there’ll be a ‘next’.

The thought that all this doesn’t exist, unless I think it into being… takes my breath away. ‘When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.’ Samyutta Nikaya 12.6

Sometime after this I reached the time for the meds and the headache was almost gone right away! Next day it was gone completely, and I wrote the above story of it all in a sequence of time.


Photo: Roy Cohn with DT

painlessness & the twitch

POSTCARD#345: Bangkok: The continuing story of relief from the pain-in-the-head (H = headache) that’s been with me these last 3 years. Yes a time for celebration, but considering my threshold being as low as it is, therefore affected in a big way when even the smallest easing of pain arises, it’s more like being thankful for small mercies. I’m in a world of tiny calibrations these days, the vast Roller Coaster Ride of self medication is over.

Sunday 24th : I didn’t need to take the magic pill until afternoon because there was no serious H – another example of the state of painlessness is that I forgot to take the usual Neurontin dose in the afternoon because there really was no headache. So I’m still walking-on-air, in this pain-free zone I’ve been travelling through for a while.

25 March : This morning, 8 am, there was the usual dose of Neurontin, the H was still there so I waited to see how bad it was and at 10am, take the magic pill. By 11 am I had forgotten all about it – the headache was gone. 12.30pm: no sign of H. I take the usual dose of Neurontin and wait to see if the H will appear. No, nothing ‘till late afternoon, I take the magic pill and H is gone.

Tuesday 26th, I feel so good and empowered, I walk to the Skytrain station, approximately 1 kilometre and got the train downtown to Central Chidlom Food Hall, got all kinds of food items and back in a taxi with all the shopping.

27 March, 10 am: Felt liberated and free, same as the other days except in the late morning when the H started to arise and I had to take the old meds instead of the magic pill (at the Neurologist’s request). The H disappeared, but then came back again pretty quick in the afternoon. This does not bode well, I thought… waited to see how bad it was then took another dose of the old meds. Reasonably effective pain killer but not the same.

27 March, 7pm : A very bad pain started inside the left eye, a huge kind of rolling pain, occupying the whole interior of my head. Four or five rolls, the whole thing lasting around 1 minute from start to finish, tapering off at the end but feeling it was not really gone. I was glad it happened at home because I fell on to the bed and covered my head with pillows and moaning like an animal. Wow! I hadn’t had it that bad before. So I take the magic pill and after a few hours a second dose. The H is gone and, sorry Dr. Ms. Neurologist, that’s the end of your experiment.

28 March, 10 am : Walking to the Skytrain aware there’s pain in the head, stepping out carefully, gliding along as smooth as can be, trying to stay calm and see how it feels. I don’t want to stop and take a pill with swig of bottled water I keep in my bag because of the broad daylight, big wide pavement and so many well-dressed office staff coming and going. What to do? There’s a coffee shop up in the Skytrain station I can get something there and take the magic pill.

I go up the escalators until I’m 3 floors above street level, and the traffic noise, amplified by concrete and steel is incredible, hard to believe. Push open a green glass door with a small whoosh of cool air. Step inside, the door gently closes behind me… traffic noise is suddenly gone. Nearly all the seats are taken, Thai students studying for exams, grouped together at small tables. I feel I shouldn’t be there, the only foreigner in the place… ah well, maybe that’s cool.

I find a seat and order cinnamon tea. Open my bag, get the meds – fast hand-to-mouth movement followed by a quick gulp of water. That’s it done, Relief Coming Soon. Now, one last thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is ‘the twitch’, and I don’t mean the rock band named Nervous Twitch or the Gamers’ Twitch at twitch dot com, I mean ‘twitch’ as a neurological issue, caused by either the neuralgia I suffer from or the meds to treat the neuralgia.

Not a big deal, just a short, small, unexpected jerk in the arms usually or in the upper body, not the face thankfully. Maybe it’s becoming more noticeable, not sure. I’ve just gotten used to it now – but not used to having to cope with it in public. And I think you can guess what happens next; cinnamon tea arrives, elegant cup I lift carefully to the mouth, head inclines towards it, lips protrude slightly to receive the hot liquid… and just at that moment, there’s a really bad twitch. The cup is jerked out of its graceful passage, and cinnamon tea is splashed over the front of my shirt.

Wow, okay so I have deal with that now, hot wetness, dab-dab dabbing with folded tissue paper, here and there and all over the place, acting like it never happened. But after a while the shirt starts to dry out and you could hardly see the stain. So that’s what happened. I got up from that chair, no evidence of cinnamon tea stain, out into the traffic noise, and back into the state of painlessness.


 

beyond victory and defeat

Victory leads to hatred,

for the defeated suffer.

The peaceful live happily,

Beyond victory and defeat.

  1. v. 201

 

Those who live beyond victory and defeat are called ‘the peaceful’, but not because they are devoid of feelings. They are not ‘beyond’ because they have escaped the confidence trick of self. Self is like a rainbow. From a distance it appears real and substantial; as you get closer it appears less solid. If we hold too tightly to our sense of self, we get lost in views about what makes us happy. We believe that winning is all that matters, not seeing that in the process we cause suffering to others. If we hold too loosely to our sense of self we get lost, this time from a lack of boundaries, becoming overly sensitive and lacking in confidence. Self-respect and self-confidence are the natural consequences of a life lived with integrity and understanding. [Ajahn Munindo, Verse 201, A Dhammapada For Contemplation (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006]

There’s something about this one that takes me to a place where everything becomes clear. It’s like making space for it all so I can see what’s helpful and what’s not. I’m busy with treating my pain – a 24/7 headache situated in the right occipital nerve. There’s not much else that gets my attention these days.

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

Self in itself is not anything of substance, but it activates all kinds of mind stuff, triggers all kinds of feelings of possessions; ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Basic instincts; catch, hold, kill, eat.

So, for me, it’s necessary to retract the claws that cling to things because it only makes the pain worse. It’s not ‘my’ pain, it’s just pain. Pain is pain no difference between your pain or mine. Pain is a non-countable noun; there is only one pain in the world, in the same way as there is water; there is only one body of water in the world.

Another thing, the negativity surrounding pain; I have pain, therefore I am a bad person. I must have done something bad to deserve this pain. That’s a ‘self’ concocted thing, let go of self and allow that to fall away

  1. One thing I’ve noticed about these pain meds is that they reduce the pain of course, but they also work on how the patient feels about the pain. There’s a distance between me and the pain. This is quite extraordinary sometimes when the pain feels like it’s here, but I can’t feel it because it’s behind a wall, or something. Or it’s in the next apartment, where a noisy party is going on… so I don’t have to pay attention to any of that any more.
  2. Sometimes it feels like a self takes shape and considers the situation… the pain is here but there’s no ‘me’ to whom it is directed. Self dissolves again. Another self comes into being with the question: To whom is this pain directed? “It is happening to me, myself!” Now I have full exposure to the pain! And I learn how to quickly let go of self when it’s not being helpful.
  3. Another self arises and says, “I’m going to suffer this Headache for the rest of my life!” So many times I’ve pondered this – how do I feel about this truth today? (compared with how I felt about it yesterday). Give it the attention it’s due then sidestep the awful self that wants to make a big thing out of it: “This is happening to me!” What are we going to do about it? And other unhelpful things.
  4. Next morning, wake up and no headache! At 9 am I take 900 mg Neurontin although there is still no headache, only small indications. It was like this all day.
  5. 1 pm, second dose of 900 mg Neurontin only small stabs of pain but not the huge deep stabs I’ve had in the past.
  6. 5pm: 900 mg Neurontin, so what’s going on here? I’m taking this medicine as a preventative measure? Let me think for a bit about this… how could it be? Anyway still no noticeable H and the day is over!
  7. Next day, H is back again but the pain not so bad, I’m able to get involved in small activities. Note: If I’m not able to forget the H, things become quickly unbearable, and I’m subject to the needs and requirements of the H. Things quickly get out of hand. This careless self-medicating takes up the whole afternoon, all in a dizzying spin. I’m grateful when 8pm comes around and the night meds send me off to sleep almost immediately.
  8. With these new meds, pain is masked off, forgotten about, for long periods of time… it’s like I forget about it. I forget also, other things I’d normally remember – is it this ‘forgetting’ that seals off pain from the mind? Is it the sense of ‘self’ that gets forgotten? There’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening?
  9. And for quite a long time, things in the room I’m in are so fluid there’s only the forms I meet from time to time, forming, transforming… quite extraordinary…

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

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