to let there be no resistance at all

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#359: Bangkok: I’ve had the pain in the right side of my head for five years, and swallowing these expensive forget-me-not capsules every wakeful moment since the whole thing was diagnosed. So every now and then I get round to reducing the habitual intake of pharmaceuticals and see how that works out. This time it was different in a significant way. Instead of having the meds everywhere in my bag, my pockets, my purse, gather them all together and keep them in one place, slightly out of reach. Up on the top shelf of the bookcase – not impossible to get to, but not easy to access… went to sleep that night and forgot all about it.

Then, somewhere in the darkness of early morning, the pain comes… ringing the urgency bell, louder and louder, nearer and nearer. Still in the dream state, ‘I don’t want it to be here!’ Panic and the fear of unknown things. Wide awake now and the fear is dispersed, but the reality of it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way – the avoidance, resistance. Obstructing it, subverting it by any means, running away from it.

‘What can I do?’ There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to reach out for whatever comfort there is nearby and see how that goes. But there’s just no getting-away from it. This is a no-choice situation and, strangely enough, things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it.

The immensity of the pain is occupying all the space and I’m backed into a corner. No escape, the only thing I can do is turn around to face the pain and step into it. Fearlessness, but really no other way to go, no choice – then the discovery; dropping the resistance to the pain causes a moment of ease to arise.

It was this action (or non-action) that led to a glimpse of consciousness without an object, quite an extraordinary, out-of-this-world feeling. There was desperation all around but just enough of an easing in the pain to tell me that whatever it was I’d done was the right way to go. Just letting it be there, without backing away. It was somewhere here I noticed the easing. Allowing the alarm to ring and finding the conviction to let there be no resistance at all, no tightening up. For this one insightful moment, the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off.

Then the pain comes back, deep stabs of it like bolts of lightning passing through, but the intention to allow space for the pain is still there. As the immensity of it become less and less, acceptance opens more and resistance begins to fall away. I see now there’s the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

An old friend sent me a link Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) It’s a mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. So I’m going to look into that.


 

this and then that

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#358: Chiang Mai/Bangkok Flight: Phone alarm goes off… there’s something I’ve forgotten! It takes a moment to realize I’m leaving today, not tomorrow. Oh no… I’m not ready! Sit up, legs over the bed… cool floor tiles on naked feet. A flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag. Quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow 3 headache capsules, bag on wheels, into taxi and we’re off.

Even after sitting quietly in the taxi watching the streets go by, I’m still rushing and bumping into things in my head. Breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport. We get there, bag on wheels, mask attached over the face. I think of the aloneness of Muslim women.

Struggling to be mindfully aware of immediate realities; the layers of security, and being shuffled through the portals and gateways: this, and then that – this, and then that. A sea of white masks and black hair… black irises and pupils show the whites of the eyes.

The parts these thoughts come together in the space of a moment. Did it happen before I was aware of it, or was it my becoming aware of it that required the parts to come together, and making sense of it in that moment. Are all moments the same? Whatever, each thought appears in its own window and I’m tugged away, involved, engaged in the story of it. Identikit assembled in each case for it is always a story about me as subject or object, features selected to match all the characteristics of who I think I am in each instance. And always the same, variations on a theme of Me and Mine.

It seems I have my headache to get adjusted to, now there’s now less need to rush through the crowds. So, how best to get along with things, having swallowed the meds before breakfast. Head spinning slightly, slow down and shuffle in the directional momentum through remaining corridors, doorways. Eye contact with people here and there over the tops of their masks… (a masked foreigner in their midst). Passing through the last portal, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my tiny seat.

A small space of window and looking out under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: Here we are cruising at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we will soon be descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit

Dialogue summarized like text messaging minimalism, words tell me what things are, fill a perceived empty space, create distance – it’s ‘out there’. Language gives everything a label, gives ‘me’ an identity; name and form (namarupa), creates a separateness, subject/object duality.

Emptiness and a lack of self, the deep knowing there’s nothing there triggers the reaction to fill the empty space with a self-construct, an image, a movie celebrity, a child’s doll, the sphinx, the totem pole, dependency on a perceived creator. I can rest in this fictional state and know it’s just the way the software works, it’s like this. Knowingness is at the base of it all, in every way.

‘… impossible to be aware of an experiencer because it is always the experience itself that momentarily occupies that space.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’]

the dreamer

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#356: Bangkok: I’m writing about the headache that lives with me, sometimes gone and “gone is gone” I used to think. Then it comes back again, wearing a different suit of clothes, together with the crinkly acetate that contains the three capsules of forget-me-nots, and that’s how we get along. Similar to that flickering old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed. So I get the stepladder in place, go up three steps and unplug one end of the tube, pull out the other end and plug in the new one. Get down and switch on, and the new light is… quite heavenly.

So, it’s under this quite heavenly light, clear and bright, I revisit the flicker of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, review conversations and receive all that was said there, held, seen, nurtured and on and on until, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder. Of course that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. And next week (I don’t want to think about it) I go to the Pain Clinic to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the scalp and the right occipital nerve – the intrusive ‘grab’ of electricity… GRAB and HOLD!

The present moment seems as if it is forever waiting in the transit lounge on the brink of becoming future time while engaged in contemplative pondering over the past. The present moment is always underway, and even if it feels like I have to hold it, tether it to the ground, and adhere myself to it in single-minded possessiveness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too.

At the time, I was unaware of the implications of this however, falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway train, disaster movie showing the world as we know it, crashing through the restraints of how it should be, shown in slow motion; too heavy for the flimsy structure built to keep it in place… and I’m suddenly back in the present moment again.

We’re always only part the way through anything, anyhow and anyway at any time; here, there, or anywhere. Fresh new thoughts always somehow returning, stay for a while then displaced by the next moment of remembering… and the present moment is inclusive of that too.

And inclusive of that too, is death… who knows what happens after that, well, how could we reach that final ending and know what happens after that? Nobody ever came back from What Happens After That to say what it was like. All we can say is that this world will come to an end eventually.

The great ship, ‘Final Ending’ and all who sail in her begins to fall in on itself, as do great empires that have spanned the centuries, like castles made of sand, tumble to the sea eventually… then, in another kind of temporality, we see the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and everyone can go on where we left off. Consciousness shines like a new tube light, quite heavenly. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, aniccan and in the end there is no ending.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. 
This is true for the entire universe.” [Aitareya Upanishad]


Note: This post is a rewrite of my other post, “In the end, there is no ending”.

ordinary epiphany

POSTCARD#353: Bangkok: The arrival was in a cramped poky little ambulance – even here, the ignominy of it, everything is always too small for me. This could be my final hours and I’m preoccupied with the claustrophobic environment. Despite these difficulties, I’m aware the nurse is trying to comfort me in my condition; a wild compulsive shuddering, quivering and twitching of an out-of-control body. In fact there was no pain, breathing was unrestricted and it looked worse than it was.

Anyway it was all lights flashing, and the multi-sound-signal siren going full blast when we arrived at the hospital. I got unloaded on a gurney, and next thing I’m in a pool of bright light and they’re searching for a vein, difficult as it is with my tiny little veins but prolonged due to this out-of-control body twitching and shaking. I tell the doc sometimes I can control it in my mind. She asks me to hold it in place for a moment. I can do it… then the full choreography of twitching takes over. Sometime around here, they must have gotten the vein and thus I was zonked out of the picture.

I wake up, and the twitching has gone. I’m in bed wearing green hospital backwards facing night-wear and the world seems very far away – except for the presence of the catheter in the urinary tract and two large bags of fluid dripping into my veins every few seconds. It tells me I’m trapped in this hospital room for the time-being, and I have to come to terms with that.

There’s somebody in the room talking to me but I can’t understand what she’s saying, or see her face clearly – it’s all mumbles in a kind of darkness. I attempt to get out of bed but this elicits mild admonishments, and restraints .

For the next four days I discover a new resolve, unknown to me in any other context. From time to time I’m overwhelmed in a kind of holy light – my born-again Christian cousin in Scotland would be delighted – but for me the Holy Father of the West is not relevant after more than thirty years in the East. It can’t be spoken, ‘it’ is not an ‘it’. Saying ‘it’ is an ineffable presence overstates it even.

It was following this way of thinking that enabled my recovery, bit by bit. The problem had been my low sodium level and the pain-meds for my headache got thrown in the mix. That was Lyrica and now, no longer part of my menu – I’m searching for the way out of my pain, always. Maybe I can manage with a few extra 300s of Neurontin. It’s a case of try it and see and that concept of existential monitoring applies in my case in all kinds of ways.

“Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.

You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.

Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11

 

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, some would say ‘rural’, others say ‘remote’. Like Jiab’s own father, passed away many years ago, reaching back into the past where money was not 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 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. It was the lady we shall call P, putting travelling bag away in the rooms next to me where she was for the night. “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 I wondered if P felt it too? 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]


 

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

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