mindfulness of pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


‘here’

POSTCARD#325: Bangkok. It’s not anywhere, it’s not everywhere, or somewhere out there… it’s about being ‘here’. It’s not no-where… it’s now-here. We’re all ‘here’, situated in various parts of the world, in different time zones. We are all ‘here’, each and every one of us, individually contemplating our own experience of circumstances associated with being ‘here.’ Blogging is a good medium for this kind of thing because, just being ‘here’ is the presentation, it’s what everybody is talking about or describing, one way or another.

Here’s something a blogging friend said: ‘…the awareness looking out of our eyes as a five year old is the awareness that’s looking out of our eyes now.’ When I read that sentence it had a curious effect; there was an instant understanding of what being ‘here’ means. Then the next thought was, what is ‘the awareness’? It’s a good question, I was told, keep on asking it…. Is it this? Is it that? Is it like trying to understand something? Like the ancient Pali/Sanskrit term: sati-sampajañña, (clear comprehension), what does that mean? I’m thinking of some kind of desired state of understanding but I can’t see that because I’m too engaged with the idea of it. So, I’ll never find clear comprehension because every time I think I’ve found it, the confusion just jumps up in its place and I’m trying to get that out of the way, in order to continue my search for clear comprehension. Eventually it falls into place, knowing clear comprehension means understanding the confusion in my head.

In the West we suffer from the creator-god condition; God made the world so the world and God must be two separate things. God is an object and I’m on shaky ground here, I can’t let go, I have to hold on indefinitely. All the clutter and stuff and mental goings-on and stumbling over all the indistinct, half-seen, misunderstood truths – believing that this is what life is about. Not able to see that it just doesn’t matter what kind of story is showing on the screen, it’s all created by the mind, arising and ceasing, dependent on causes and conditions and the karmic outcome of past events.

God is a subject, a subjective state, the mind doesn’t create awareness, mind is contained in the awareness. It’s something like, there’s ‘awareness’ but I think I can’t see it. And thinking I can’t see it, is another mind moment that exists temporarily in awareness. Awareness is a subjective state, and a lifetime can be used up in getting to know everything there is to know about what that means and in whatever context, and wherever that leads. It’s all ‘here’.

“To many, meditation suggests a process of relaxation to find peace and stillness within. But from the Buddhist perspective it is not a contrived effort to make oneself peaceful; it is a process of seeing accurately, so that we can step out of our fundamental confusion. All our sufferings, in life and death, are caused by this fundamental confusion that prevents us recognizing our true nature.” [There’s More to Dying Than Death, by Lama Shenpen Hookham]


observations on an earlier post, ‘being here’

 

submerged in air

POSTCARD#322: Chiang Mai: Sitting at my desk here on the third floor and there’s somebody drilling a hole in the wall somewhere, the sound of it seems to be everywhere. Renovations are going on and there’s been a lot of banging and drilling. It’s a hammer drill in hard concrete this time; the sound is vibrating through the structure of the room and if I lean my head in my hand and elbow on my desk, the vibration is conducted through the bone structure of my arm, and jaw held in hand, clenched teeth and the skull is vibrating. It’s like the hole is being drilled in my head and I’d really like that sound to go away, to not be here. Interesting that it only takes a moment for the mind to create backstory support for this thought, and suddenly I feel totally engaged in it.

Then a child starts crying in another apartment, it’s small voice going on in a seemingly inconsolable way. I can hear the muffled sound of the mother’s voice as well. Yes, I’d be upset too if I was woken up by this kind of noise… and there’s resentment about the noise building up inside me, a very large wave of justified outrage, beginning to take shape. In an instant it’s formed. Who is responsible for this? I’m looking for somebody to be at fault here. Who’s to blame for this? I come from a society conditioned by blaming, searching for the scapegoat. Blame it on somebody – blame it on myself…. then that whole emotional thing disappears as quickly as it arose, because there’s a plane approaching; it’ll fly over in a few seconds. We’re in the flight path here – departing flights from Chiang Mai airport, flying quite low and heavy with fuel. Some are very large passenger jets that go to Singapore and this must be one of them.

In a moment, the immense sound is present, takes over in every conceivable way; everything in the apartment, and outside too, subject to this colossal roaring vibration. The sound doesn’t just deafen, it’s as if we are submerged in air, an epic disaster movie. I can hear the hammer drill and the child crying, but the sounds are so faint. The thinking mind is quiet in the presence of this vast noise; a great chasm opening up in the fabric of reality, getting wider and wider and there’s only the receiving of the experience.

I’m drawn to these strange moments when there seems to be no thought at all. The mind just stops, and there’s awareness of ‘self’ but there’s no connection with it. Besides, the totality of aircraft noise is waning, as I knew it would, and hammer drill sensory impingement returns. Familiarity of crying child who remains unconsoled and, for a little while, I have to give way to the raging fire of emotion again. The mind is engaged in a kind of intensely gridlocked traffic of thoughts, driven into near collision with other thoughts and backing up, and trying to find a way out of this cramped condition.

Then I sidestep the whole thing. There’s a pause and in the small space that exists I remember the Ajahn saying, “Outside the thinking mind there is the uncreated”. I look around for the pause… it’s still there, a curious extended, stretched-out moment when there’s just no thought at all. It’s getting easier now, the child is not crying anymore. The drilling stops and the silence is overwhelming. Mango trees outside my window; sunlight on leaves, branches move slightly as tiny squirrels squeak and leap around in playfulness.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: Chiang Mai Red Bus, public transport that goes anywhere
Reflections on an earlier post, Uncreated

a world of our own creation

POSTCARD#321: Chiang Mai Airport: Waiting in departures for the delayed flight to Bangkok. Very crowded and all seats near the gate are taken. Young Americans, Australians, in ‘Hang Out’ mode, sprawled around in the seats, on the floor, wearing nearly nothing at all; long legs, pointed elbows sticking out – a sea of brightly coloured T-shirts, shorts, rubber slippers. In the coffee bar, a forest of exposed limbs, tattooed legs, bosoms, identity obscured behind peaked caps worn down over the eyes, mirror reflecting sunglasses, headphones, iTunes and hunched over their devices, sucking up drinks through a plastic straw, the tubular proboscis of insectoids. Sensory-experience junkies, have to have that input by way of the sense gates.

They do know, though, that the ego of the West is a self-sustaining concept running out of battery and most likely to fizzle out quite soon, impermanence, everything changes. There’s no substance to it, same with all things. This is the Christian God of the West, the one-and-only-God that doesn’t include two thirds of the world’s population because they’re not Christian. It’s like a right wing supremacist movement, same as Muslim extremist groups; there’s a war and both sides pray to God to win. God gets confused, so there’s another war, and another…. Everyone is dying or dead and among the survivors there is one who can see they they’re not talking about God, the Ultimate Reality, what they’re talking about is one of the gods of the conditioned realm. The logic of this is inescapable – how could God be something that one religion has and another doesn’t have? Yes, inescapable but there’s a kind of nobody-at-home look on the faces of my Christian friends when it seems like I’m going to want to try to discuss this point further.

Some people wake up, but some just don’t wake up at all. It gets too complicated and that’s why the Buddha was saying life is difficult enough as it is so let’s not get engaged with the God concept, okay? Attachment to the idea of it becomes a desire in itself and that’s what’s causing the problem. Ultimate reality is so fragile and subtle you can never be absolutely sure you’re not still setting it up so you’re seeing it the way you want it to be, still in the conditioned realm and far from the Truth. The best thing to do is not call it anything, cultivate mindfulness, clear comprehension, discerning awareness and take care; see how that goes…

“… the illusory world is through attachment. We think we all live in the same world as personalities, but every one of us lives in a world of our own creation. We have certain things in common but so much of our life is personal and unique to ourselves. That world we create is not the objective world we believe we’re living in; we’re living in a world of our own creation. That’s why it’s so difficult relating to each other, isn’t it? We’re coming from different worlds – you feel, sometimes, you’re living with a bunch of aliens!” [Ajahn Sumedho, ‘In Awareness There is No Dukkha’]


Photo: Louk Vreeswijk

 

a twinkling diamond light

POSTCARD#320: Bangkok: Remembering North India, Bodh Gaya: 04.00 hours: This is where the Buddha’s enlightenment took place. I’m in a hotel not far from where it happened, the window is open, sitting on a cushion and comfortably watching the breath. There’s a sense of being near the epicentre, ground zero – the sparkling, twinkling diamond light. From here, it spread through everyone who were able to listen, then, in the course of time, reaching out to all parts of the East. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, South East Asia and other places eventually came here to see for themselves, the places where the Buddha walked.

Something I’d really like to do before running to catch the last bus, is to visit all the Buddhist countries in the world. I’ve been to Bodh Gaya, Śrāvastī, and the other sites in North India, where that sparkling diamond light can be seen. All those centuries ago, the presence of the Buddha, – although typically, we have to line up with hundreds of other visitors and shuffle through these neatly restored monuments with a fence all around and guards at the gate to keep out the beggars.

Better just to find a place in the grass comfortably situated in the shade of these huge Pipal trees. How much of this is as it was, 2,600 years ago? I’m seated on the earth, with the others in my group. I am distinctly aware that the Buddha walked near to here when it was called Jeta’s Grove – Thus Have I Heard. The wind gently moves across my face, becomes tangled in the hair on my head. The sensation of the breath gently touching the inner nasal passages, and the consciousness that arises with that feeling – look around, the same blue sky, brown earth, green foliage, even though the objects I see may not be the same as they were then, the process of seeing is the same, received in the ever-present conscious experience – a manifestation of consciousness experiencing itself in that twinkling diamond light.

“Where there is the mind, where there are mental phenomena, mind-consciousness, things to be cognized by mind-consciousness, there a being exists or the description of a being. Where there is no mind, no mental phenomena, no mind-consciousness, there a being does not exist nor any description of a being.” [SN 1.65]


Reflections on an earlier post titled Now As It Was Then

ko-el

POSTCARD#314: Chiang Mai: The silence of the morning is interrupted by a koel bird on a branch of the huge tree near us: ko-el, ko-el, ko-el – two syllables getting louder and louder, reaching its peak and the bird stops for a moment. It starts again quietly then working up to the same high volume, the ko-el sound echoes with the quality of hard surfaces of branches and the layers of foliage. All around inside the room: ko-el, ko-el. The end of the sound –el collides with the beginning of the next sound in the sequence: ko- and for a moment it becomes more like: el-ko-el-ko-el-ko, smoothly presented in a form the bird insists on, so well and I’m just discovering it.

The perception of the sound shifts back to ko-el, ko-el, contained in this space – and in the space contained in all the other rooms in this building. Also the corridors and passageways, in the elevator shaft, the front lobby as I go down to street level to get something from 7/11. The ko-el sound can be heard everywhere in the building. I know, of course, it just seems like the ko-el sound is in the building, in fact the ko-el sound and the whole building are contained in awareness, which holds all, no boundaries, no beginning, no end. The ko-el sound can be heard all along the street too.

Back upstairs again and I am in this space, the space is in me. I can say ‘I’ am here, meaning the ‘self’ arising from the mechanisms that filter conscious experience through the senses. And the ko-el sound reaching my ear convinces me that if there is sound, there must be somebody in here hearing it – and that’s ‘me.’

The belief in self is backed up by sensory data input through ear, eye, nose, mouth, the sense of touch, and mind. I can let go of this belief that I am ‘me’ because there’s really nobody here – it’s a figure of speech. The emphasis on it being the same as the object of comparison pushes the whole thing over the edge and the metaphor ‘becomes’ both subject and object.

Thoughts think themselves, dependent on conditions, that are dependent on other conditions; peeling back the layers of onion to discover there’s nothing in the center. The what-ever-ness, ‘self’ is not contained in me, ‘I’ am contained in ‘self’.

The ko-el sound shifts to some other location, the bird has flown to a different tree. Later in the day, I hear it again coming from some distant place, and after a while I don’t hear it any more.


Reflections on an earlier post, the ‘I’ metaphor. Note, “whateverness” sourced in Joakim (Sweden)’s blog: seeingwhatis

the blur

POSTCARD#313: Bangkok: My first visit to the eye hospital, unwilling to go, but blurred vision in the both eyes, and still I’m thinking it’s nothing, disregarding the fact that I’m finding it difficult to read, identify coins, and other necessary actions. Making excuses for a long time, and going on like this until I’m stumbling into things too many times; only then am I persuaded I need to go. Even so, still insisting no, I don’t need anyone to come with me. Thank you, I can manage by myself and next thing, I’m squeezing through the crowds at the Skytrain (overhead railway) entrance to get a one-day ticket (because it’s easier than putting the right coins in the slot). Some regret then, that I’d refused the kind offer of someone to come with me, but another part of me insisting I can manage, I’ve done this so many times what could go wrong? Same old situation, I am a foreigner living in someone else’s country, not possible to ask anyone for help, too complicated to explain – therefore there’s that familiar alertness, awake and mindful.

Getting off the train is a challenge, it’s a place I’ve not been to before, and I can read Thai but can’t seem to find the correct exit (the signs are unclear?) So I choose to go with the North/South orientation of the map, knowing that if I face the way the train is travelling as I get off, in this case North, and as I go down the staircases and escalators to street level, I’m always orientated in that same Northerly direction and notice which way the traffic is going so it’ll be easier for the taxi driver. All this because doing a U-turn can be a lengthy process here; somebody said the whole of Bangkok is one large, U-turn…. A pink and white cab is waiting and I tell the driver where I’d like to go – will he take me? He thinks for a bit (doing U-turns in his head), yes, ok. So we’re off.

At the hospital, it’s a long session. I’m lying down and they put some drops in my eyes to enlarge the pupils so their equipment can see inside the eye (this is just so freaky). The doctor asks me if there’s anybody to take me home because the drops in the eyes will make things a bit indistinct for a few hours. I’m in denial, thinking, I’ve been living in an indistinct world for a long time and have managed okay. But when I step outside, it’s raining and the world is a blur, a smear, a sea of colour, yellow, green and pink taxis, red tail lights of vehicles in vivid splashes. No form or definition anywhere, I’ve lost my North/South orientation, having come into the hospital by a different door.

What to do? A motorbike taxi comes along and I tell him where to go and get on – let him to sort it out. We get up to a surprising speed on what I believe to be the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, weaving in and out of the other lane, wherever there’s a space.

A great whoosh of hot wet wind, colossal noise and we get to the Skytrain station, with its dynamic staircase insisting on the direction we need to take. After that it’s just a case of getting the North/South thing sorted out, following the crowds up the escalator, on to the train, and into the coolness of the AC carriage, with this wild wind crashing against the window and the strange dark sky. A wind also blowing through the mind; papañca, proliferations arising from the single thought that I have cataracts in both eyes and have to have the operation on the right eye on August 9th. Mindfulness of breathing…


Reflections on an earlier post, necessity of mindfulness

blessings fill the room

POSTCARD#311: Chiang Mai: 07.00 hours: The alarm rings…. and it takes a moment to recognize I’m in Chiang Mai, arrived last night. Heavy curtains over the window; a darkness I’m not used to. It’s quiet here, the sound of monks chanting anumodana on the edge of hearing. A motorbike whizzes by in the distance, nothing else. Senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching for a way to ‘become’ something that will establish ‘me’ in this place and time but I can’t, I’m distracted by these new surroundings and keep returning to the narrative associated with interesting objects.

Too many, too much, I go to the window, feet on cool tiles, flip flop, flip flop, a sense of empty rooms, as yet uninhabited; space/time occupied with the moving of its integral parts – chapters from a book about furniture being moved into a new apartment, the ending hasn’t been written yet and the beginning is a continuation of what happened before that.

Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and ‘now’ becomes yesterday – here we are in the awareness of this moment, the means by which we arrive at this point in time remains a mystery.

Slide open the curtains of all the windows. A blaze of colour, monks in varying shades of orange, faded tangerine robes and a group of kneeling Thai tourists from the hotel opposite. (Note: the original post refers to Christmas Day 2012, and here in a Buddhist country it is just an ordinary day).

Jesus and all the other great teachers in history were really saying the same thing. In the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving ‘urge’ and from this place in awareness, it’s possible to see that I am continually re-born in tiny slices of time, minutes, seconds, into this self-perpetuating loop due to the habituality of trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want. Thinking that yes, so life is about trying to get it right, but caught in attachment upadana; even this, the desired state, belongs to ‘me,’ the act of possessing it requires that there has to be a ‘me.’

Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even that which I consider to be ‘my’ enemy, is also ‘mine.’ Thus creating a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth in all this and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Layers of associated narrative obscure the issue. People say they are so busy with ordinary tasks; earning enough money to support the family and no time to think of anything else.

In the same way, belief in an external creator creates attachment and unthinking devotion to this returns me to the same point of entry, again and again. It’s not so much about taking refuge in the Jesus or Buddha of the mind. It’s about here-and-now behaviors: sila, samadhi, pannya (virtue/ mindfulness of present time/ and the applied intelligence that goes with it). The blessings of the monks fills the room; slowly waking up to an awareness of this reality….

‘If those who lead you say to you, “See, the kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ [Selected Sayings of Jesus from Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi manuscripts]


Reflections on an earlier post titled habituality of former lives

 

contained spaces

POSTCARD#305: Bangkok: There’s a dream I had once and, as soon as I woke up, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper I found in my wallet. That paper was with me for years, and when I found it again, it was indistinct and the writing, a hard-to-read scribble. So I keyed it in before it was reduced to a fragment of paper and disappeared. Then a few years after that, I found the document and created a post with it, titled: before after’, published on April 12, 2016. There were a few comments including one from Michael who suggested an alternate ending. So, nearly 2 years later, I decided to rewrite the dream and have Michael’s idea stitched in near the end. It goes like this:

I’m standing at a bus stop, waiting for a bus. The bus arrives, stops at the stop, and I get on. Instead of ordinary bus seats, there’s furniture, sofas, armchairs, a small coffee table, TV, curtains on the windows, and it’s laid out like a room interior. I find a place and sit down. Other passengers on the bus are sitting in unmatched furniture, everybody looking around for the person who comes to get orders for snacks and drinks. Nobody comes, there’s a long interval of nothing happening at all and after a while I start to think maybe it’s because the bus hasn’t left the stop yet.

At the same moment I remember I left my shoes outside the door at the bus stop. This is because in all houses in Asia you have to leave your shoes outside when you enter. In the dream, there’s something I’m not sure about here, how to resolve the issue of leaving the shoes and never seeing them again? Okay, so I can just leave the shoes there and when I get off at the next bus stop, I’ll take someone else’s shoes (it happens in Buddhist monasteries).

Yes, but this still doesn’t feel like a satisfactory resolution, and I’m walking towards the door of the bus to bring my shoes in, even though I know they can’t be there because the bus has left the stop. There’s the feeling of motion, chairs and sofas all-sliding around slightly in the movement, and the sound of the bus as it is going along.

But when I look out the back door, there are my shoes lying on the pavement where I left them, and the bus hasn’t moved an inch! How could it be that the inside and the outside of the bus seem to have their own rules of logic? It’s like, I get on the bus, the door closes, and the inside of the bus is moving along – I can tell because there’s the feeling we are moving, the furniture is sliding around. But when I look outside, we are still in the same place.

Is it because stepping into a world contained inside the dream, means you are an observer in another dream – a whole other situation, with its own characteristics and its own context… a dream inside a dream? Shortly after that I wake up, and there’s the enigma of it, there’s the world as I perceive it, but outside of that, there’s another completely different world, just going along as things do? The example of the chicken hatching out of the egg, pecking it’s way out of the world of the egg and into another contained space, another world…

Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story instead of the actor in it. [Ram Dass]


 

not anything

POSTCARD#298: Bangkok: 3:30 am: Almost awake in the darkness of a warm insect-click, whispering night; dreamscape/ language interface and a question arises… floats in air motionless, then ascends, as light as a feather. Which way will these air currents take it? Something about the usual way I perceive my surroundings is different. The pronoun ‘I’ becomes ‘him’ over there, engaging in active thinking… looking for words to make sense of it all. Curiosity shifts, rolls over and retrieves the word ‘pain’.

By this time, the session with the Pain Clinic yesterday has returned to memory and now I’m nearly awake – so the big question is… has the headache gone or not? Focus attention again on the location of that pain, as a particular point on the headache ‘map’… is it there? Push myself up in bed, swing legs over the side, soles of feet on cool flooring. No, the pain I feel is where the needle went in, and all around that, is a totally pain-free zone. It worked!

I want to fling open the bedroom door and go running up and down the stairs, but I can’t do that because we have a 5 weeks old baby in the house… it’s a long story. Compassion for those having no understanding of the Buddha’s teaching on the Noble Truth of Suffering – Suffering? Not for me, no thanks, it sounds awful. I want to be happy. There they go hungering after that happiness, and trying to keep it all in balance, the tipping point, verging on total disaster.

Systems developed from the recognition of the kind of suffering that’s caused by resistance. Seeing myself fighting against it, as it’s appearing in present time, sometimes hating it, and holding on in some way to a temporary pain-free state, short-lived because unknowingly I’m pulled away by a yearning for something else and the round-and-round of wanting things to be different than the way they are.

I’ve learned that the best way to keep your balance in these investigations into the way things are, is to not want anything, and not seek anything, because there’s ‘not anything’ there – not ‘nothing’, not ‘anything. If I can see it like that, the holding-on thing is not getting in the way. What I’m left with is a contemplation of the question rather than looking for the nearest-match answer. We can’t know what it is in the conditioned realm; beyond the point of no return, and there are no words for it. In the end maybe, all that remains is the word ‘it’ – there’s a metallic click-sound to it as that too is cut off, extinguished, the cessation of the conditioned world. This is as far as it goes in Theravada Buddhism – other Eastern teachings may have more to say about ‘it’.

‘The real is not something, it’s not anything. It’s not a phenomenon. You can’t think about it, you can’t create an image of it. So we say unconditioned, unborn, uncreated, unformed. Anatta (not-self), nirodha (cessation), nibbana (liberation). If you try to think about these words you don’t get anywhere. Your mind stops, it’s like nothing. … if we’re expecting something from the meditation practice, some kind of Enlightenment, bright lights and world-trembling experiences, then we’re disappointed because expecting is another kind of desire, isn’t it?’ [The End of the World is Here, Ajahn Sumedho]