holistic kindness, metta part 4

POSTCARD#423: Bangkok: Excerpts from “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floodsby Ajahn Sucitto. Click on the link for Wiki Bio Ajahn Sucitto

Ajahn helps us discover and overcome difficulties in confronting negative self-views when clearing the ways that lead to holistic kindness. Also called loving-kindness, it is mettā in Pali, maitrī in Sanskrit; and synonyms for benevolence, friendliness, amity, good will. With the support of other pāramī; Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Patience, Truthfulness we can emerge from the negative overwhelm of self-view and experience this sense of grace, of receiving compassion that is greater and more boundless than any of one’s personal attributes or efforts – the divine (or sublime) abiding (brahmavihāra).

The ability to generate mettā depends on both willingness and capacity. These may be in short supply. Those who have experienced sustained abuse can find it very difficult to experience kindness for themselves or for others; those who have not had the secure presence of goodwill can be subject to the insecurity that leads to attachment to views and becoming. Our capacity can also be limited by how we’re being affected in the present. Although conditions are always changing, when the mind is affected by visitors such as fear, worry, guilt and passion, it easily becomes fixed in that state. If the visitor is anger, then the mind becomes bristling and volcanic. If the visitor is remorse or guilt, the mind becomes an eddy that chases itself and sinks down. So we need to develop strengths and skills to stop being overwhelmed by these fixating forces.

Hence there’s a requirement to develop pāramī. Generosity and morality are foundations for fellow-feeling. And with renunciation, we practise letting go of the sense of covetousness and selfishness, the ‘me, me, me’ attitude. That, too, is a basis for kindness. With renunciation, we start to let go of the need to be successful or the need for status, and look into the props we use to support our self-image and emotional well-being, which include material things, stimulation, busyness, status and praise. When we start to let go of some of those props, then we notice the blank patches in the mind, where there’s a raw need to be stimulated, and we notice the consequent restlessness. These blank patches

indicate where we must begin filling our emotional body with well-being. The first three perfections — generosity, morality and renunciation — make well-being possible because when one is generous and virtuous, there is self-respect. Because of that good kamma, we have emotional brightness in which the mind can extend itself to other beings in empathic rather than grasping ways. Hence we get fuller and richer in ourselves and can let go of a few more props. As the fear and the need disappear, discernment gets clearer, and we can see where we need to work. This means we begin to recognize where fearful, self-defensive boundaries occur in our lives. Beyond these boundaries we collapse or get incoherent, and in maintaining them we contract or get volcanic. But with the pāramī, we see what affects us at the edge of our sense of self, and then we find the energy to work into that sensitive place.

Extending the mind into sensitive places takes us into the turbulence that the boundary has been created to contain. Often there are emotions and energies that have been pushed aside or repressed, and they lie dormant in the field of  consciousness, for as long as we keep busy or can control what’s going on. But outside of that — when things go wrong, or somebody or something pushes our buttons, or when we meditate — old senses of being intruded on or pushed around or rejected can get activated. Then what arises are generally forms of fear, grief or rage. Somebody has invaded our space; we have been denied or pushed out of warmth. There are of course personal versions of these stories, but those are the basic messages of the turbulence out of which need and depression, anxiety and resentment boil up. And with these, the first intention is of patience, then truthfulness, plus the resolve of kindness. Hold the centre, soften, widen, include it all. Sustaining these intentions — no matter what — leads to the settling and crossing over.

Patience is essential because sometimes it can take a long time staying at the edges before things shift. Truthfulness is required to acknowledge: ‘This turbulence, this sense of intimidation is not him, her, them or me. It’s actually that affect and response.’ So it is: often in our lives we find ourselves going through the same emotional scenarios and the same wounded, ‘dumped on’ experiences — just with different characters doing the dumping or irritating. First you assume, ‘It’s him or her.’ Then you might think ‘It’s me, it’s my weakness.’ But is this really true? You can spend ages attributing causes anywhere you choose along the self-other boundary, but that doesn’t release the pain. Instead you need the resolve to stay with it, to get to the truth behind the self-view. As

you let go of all the discriminations and positions, your mind widens to include it all. This is where the latent tendency that is holding the self-other boundary gets released.

Great Heart

As a Dhamma practice, we sustain and deepen the intent of kindness, irrespective of the various identities and shadow forms that arise in awareness. That’s enough. We establish clear awareness and sustain kindness in the moment where impressions occur and where responses arise. It’s not about conjuring up any great feelings of emotional warmth, but a process of staying in touch, of not blaming oneself or others, and of not going into the past to rehash old issues. The ‘staying at’ that point of the hurt, ill will and pain then begins to carry the awareness across to compassion (karunā) and transpersonal wisdom. Karunā is the kindly eye on the helplessness of our suffering. When we experience this without blame or defence or struggle, compassion arises. And it arises irrespective of the identity or value of the wounded being. Compassion sweeps over judgments of others or ourselves. It knows how terrible it is for anything – even a mass murderer, tyrant, or poisonous snake – to be trapped in pain. When entering into this sphere of compassion, it is not a matter of doing anything, blaming or feeling sad about it, or wishing it were different. Instead, it is about entering that place where one touches the pain directly. Then, through staying in the hurt where the mind can’t do anything, has no remedies, ideas or

philosophies, it comes out of the position of ‘me.’ The small, localized state of mind opens out of the default self-and-other sense into the Great Heart. The non-doing of such a heart has powerful effects. Instead of trying to conjure it up (and feeling frustrated if ‘it doesn’t work,’ or ‘I’m not good enough’), we let the healing happen by itself. Then there is a sense of grace, of receiving compassion that is greater and more boundless than any of one’s personal attributes or efforts. Truly this is called a divine (or sublime) abiding (brahmavihāra). And through contemplating the selfless nature of

this abiding, the mind lets go — not only of ill-will, but also of the push of becoming and self-view. This is the shore of the Beyond.

patience the sixth perfection 2

The World and Its Winds

Some of the chief sources of emotional pain are called the ‘worldly winds’: the gusts of Praise and Blame, Gain and Loss, Fame and Ignominy, Happiness and Unhappiness. These impressions trigger demand, anxiety and despair wherein we never feel good enough where and how we are. And like winds, they can blow through the heart at gale force and throw us completely off balance.

Take for example how powerful the experience of Praise and Blame can be! We can hunger for praise… even a little crumb of approval now and then. Then you feel jealous if somebody else is getting huge amounts of praise, and you are standing by the door, hardly noticed. As for blame, how we wriggle and contort to try to avoid it! We aspire to being liked, and we work at it, but still somebody doesn’t like us. Or maybe we blame ourselves.

The Buddha made a very helpful summary of blame: ‘They blame one who remains silent, they blame one who speaks much, they blame one who speaks in moderation. There is no one in this world who is not blamed’ (Dhp. 227). That applied to him, too, for the Buddha was blamed many times. So when we know it’s inevitable we can just focus on doing our best, all the time keeping our wisdom-ear cocked for the mind’s yearning for approval and its dread of disapproval.

Once the mind starts to even anticipate being blamed, a flurry enters into it. And when the blaming begins … our mind may try to come up with a rational explanation for whatever it was we’re being blamed for, rather than simply feeling where the blame is digging in and then drawing a line around it: ‘This is painful mental feeling.’ It’s a trigger, so we need to be extremely patient with that feeling.

Patience has to be learned by focusing on that painful feeling and not reacting. It’s a humbling lesson: to feel the pain, be patient with it and learn something about letting it pass through. Feel the impression in the heart and don’t shrug it off, don’t fight back, don’t go under. An impression is an impression. Don’t rely on it, don’t adopt it, don’t try to avoid it. Instead, understand it for what it is.

Then you can see the truth about someone blaming you. You made a mistake? Is there something you can learn from this? And you can see the truth about someone praising you. How much good will praise do for you? Doesn’t it deprive you of privacy? And that surge that you feel from gain… doesn’t it make you vulnerable to loss? These winds are there to teach you patience. Focus on how patience feels and value it. Then you can acknowledge specific mistakes you’ve made without taking on the sense of being a failure. And you can experience others’ gratitude or praise with a sense of gladness that they have received something of benefit. You don’t have to own it.

Learning the True Response

For an achievement that will provide long-lasting nourishment, we have to develop a response to unsatisfactoriness, dukkha. The Buddha’s encouragement was that dukkha must be understood. The unsatisfactory, inconclusive, never-quite-fitting, things going- wrong, unstable quality has to be understood in order to realize the place where it ceases. And in order to understand, we have to ‘stand under’ that unsatisfactoriness. We don’t pole-vault over it to the nice bit on the other shore. Instead, we stand under it as it cascades over us. When there is a complete standing-under, we feel the quality of that flood. You look to where things touch you, where things are felt.

You look at physical pain and see what that does to you. First of all you wriggle a bit to find a way to soften it; then you begin to get a little annoyed by it; then you get very annoyed by it. You think, ‘It’s not fair this is happening to me.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, I give up.’ But still it hasn’t gone. It didn’t go because you haven’t really given up; you were waiting for it to end, so you’ve only given up ninety percent. Eventually, it pushes you into a corner, and the only thing you can do is accept its presence and work on your reactions.

In that full allowing of conditions to be what they are, we stabilize our hearts and find peace. It’s like putting a boat into water. We make an ark of truth: ‘Conditions are like this,’ and in that truth, we don’t adopt the conditions as our own. This is important: you can’t drain the sea, but you don’t have to drown.

Why we feel overwhelmed, as if we’re drowning, is because the heart is ‘leaky.’ When it isn’t secure, perceptions and feelings flood in and cause it to sink. But even then it’s just mind-stuff — no sights, sounds, physical pains or harsh words, just the impressions of those. It is these impressions that mount up to a sense of overwhelm and alienation. And the heart can recycle them for years, even when their apparent external source has long disappeared.

These perceptions, moods and reactions arise dependent on the mind’s expectations, fragility or aims. We have to learn deeply that the approval of others, the success in our career, and the presence of what we love are not to be taken as given, not to be adopted as mine. This adopting of conditions is what knocks holes in our boat. But when these conditions can be held in the truth of their nature, the mind lets go and senses a freedom that doesn’t depend on supports. Gain, loss, praise, blame — you don’t have to go under. You can wear out the reflex of hanging on to the world. But for this you have to be very patient.

(The ten perfections, continued next week 26 march 2021)

meditation with mindfulness

POSTCARD#407: Bangkok: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than thirty years – married to Jiab, a Thai Buddhist for that same length of time. Jiab, like most Thais, is a Theravādin Buddhist, she is active both in the English language and Thai meditation groups in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. We went to an International Buddhist temple in the North East, Wat Pah Nanachat, 1987 and there I met the monks who changed my life.

Years went by, We became part of the Kalyanamitra in Switzerland, I became part of the editorial team in publishing books on the Buddha’s Teachings, while looking at the whole thing with deepening understanding, and all of it evolving over and over.

Five years ago the headache arrived, I lost the starting point in meditation, then found it again somewhere else. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority in my life any more; the visits to the Neurologists, the meds to treat the pain, and coping with the side effects. This changed everything. I lost the sure-footedness I had acquired over the years. At the beginning of the headache days there was only the pain, the urgency and the medicine ‘blur’ overload. Things fell apart so often, I’d be picking up the pieces and realise I had forgotten completely the simplest of things.

Thus I seem to have lost so much in these crises, and the confusion in recovery then starting over, but I’m sure of one thing; if I hadn’t had the headache condition, I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am to look for the way out of suffering (Dhukka, the first Noble Truth), and begin to uncover the mystery – I am still looking.

Things are more stable now, I’ve learned how to balance the meds with the headache. I go on (more slowly) with the study of Theravada meditation – I  never looked into Mahayana, and now there’s not enough lifetime left! It’s a pity because in recent years I discovered Advaita and Non-duality… a sense of the ancient.

I can sit on the cushion, with or without headache or meds and focus as best I can, on an object in the mind… see where that gets me (samatha). Or I can focus on the in-breath and out-breath (vipassanā) or a combination of both. You might have the impression that I know a lot about meditation but I’m just an ordinary practitioner of meditation with mindfulness – following the three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).

I depend on the wisdom of Buddhist monks such as Ajahn Sucitto for guidance, inspiration, insight and these moments of understanding. Here are some excerpts from “Parami – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”. The section on Wisdom: Innate Clarity, Pannā Pāramī the Fourth Parami, beginning page 73.

“You might find it helpful to begin your meditation period by reflecting on the following four themes: goodwill; mortality; the good that you have done or that has been done to you; and the example of the Buddha or your immediate spiritual teacher. These will help to bring your mind into a balance of head and heart. As that effect is felt, select a meditation topic that your mind is now willing to be guided by.”

The following sections are on page 77

Wisdom Needs Meditation

“Meditation in the Buddhist sense means the cultivation of calm and insight (samatha-vipassanā), and the development of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samādhi) to bring those about. Mindfulness is the faculty that bears a feeling, idea, process or sensation in mind…”

It helps me to understand Ajahn’s words when I can identify and focus on a few words – possible discussion points if there are any kind readers out there who’d like to comment (or help me with a better understanding). Please get in touch.

I understand samatha as tranquility meditation, meditating on an object, with the intention to reach those calm states. What we are looking at here is the combination of samatha (calm focus on one thing) and vipassana (insight) observing thoughts without attachment as they come and go. Also the clarity of Mindfulness (sati)… an inner watchfulness, on-the-spot awareness of the functioning of the mind, and interaction with the sensory world.

Samatha and Vipassana as well as Sati means there is the momentum to bring about samadhi, the pleasing calm mind state leaning towards Wisdom.

“Sustained, (mindfulness) counteracts scattered attention and impulsiveness. Concentration is the deepening into the steadiness that mindfulness brings, a deepening that becomes pleasurable. These two support calm. And when the mind is calm we can look into it and bring wisdom to bear on the roots of mental action. This penetrative inward looking, or insight, is needed because it’s often the case that we don’t really know or aren’t clear about the causes, motivations and effects of what we’re doing. The basis of action gets buried beneath the sheer quantity of action our minds get involved with.”

[The following section is on page 89] “Notice that when you acknowledge and focus on your thoughts and emotions, the mind enters the experience of being aware of them rather than being them. Notice that a blend of clear attention and emotional spaciousness supports this kind of awareness; and that the results of it are that one is calmer and wiser with regard to the mind.”

(Continued 19 Feb 2021)


Image link

the word ‘nothing’

POSTCARD#406: Bangkok: Eyes looking out for anyone I know in a world full of face-masks. This displaced familiarity… we’re all strangers here but it seems like we’re friends. We’re all together in our locked-in state, thinking in quiet colors, blues and shades of gray. I’m seeing it in slow motion today due to my old friend, the pain in the head – triggered by wearing a mask too small for me – the elastic bands around the ears pulled tight, squeezing on the nerve.

Awareness of the headache as it peaks and breaks through like a Chinese Firecracker, the holding-on becomes the letting-go; hold-on, let-go, hold-on, let-go…

Suddenly mindfulness facilitates the disappearance of ‘self’… there’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening. There’s no ‘self’ suffering from head pain, there is only pain… detached, seen as a quivering of the air held for a moment then gone.

There is no You, no I. No He, She, or It. See the third person singular, sitting there, an object in objective reality. No worries, no We, You, They. Personification and the lack of it, is a shared thing. It happens to all of us.

There is no permanent unyielding ‘self’ in a kind of mind-made algorithm that gets it to make sense and the knowing of it too. Self is a construct, language is a construct, everything is advisedly devised, contrived, improvised – perfect disguise. Cross my heart and hope to die: “this is who I am!”

The gypsy glancing glass-eyed gaze, searching through a sea of face masks for that sudden déjà vu, a hidden identity revealed: the prodigal son re-found, taken home embraced by long large arms of an extended family, comforting and warm.

Words strain and stretch to carry meaning. No sudden movement, no end, no beginning, leave everything in the continuous form of the present moment. No past and no future except for the placing of things in the right order.

Finding my way through a lifetime of sensory input remains the indefatigable task. Living with and looking after the mind/body organism and the world that is part of it; all this continues, quietly and with care – becoming an ongoing open-ended, analysis of the observed world and the observer of it, together as a oneness. Everything is integrated, nothing exists outside of this – really nothing, not even the word ‘nothing’.

“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]


Note: Not able to concentrate enough this week to publish the latest installment of the Ten Paramis. Look out, it’ll be there ASAP.

the unbroken whole

POSTCARD#402: Bangkok: I see the world by way of a built-in filter process which selects the sensory data that’s compatible with my operating system. Everything I receive from the ‘outside’ world fits with the default state of mind. The problem is the operating system is set to delete anything that doesn’t agree with the world I have come to know, and I lose things of value every day. There is only this ever-present stream of mental chatter that fills up every empty space and vacant place. Every day I say I need to fix these glitches, in the meantime, make do with things as they are.

How I perceive the world is dependent on causes and conditions arriving here in present time as soon as the inclination, intention or volition arises. I can’t be separate from my kamma, according to preferences and likes/dislikes… it’s part of the software. I think I’m an independent being unaffected by anything or not affecting or influencing anything else. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see that all this is being monitored and directed by the ongoing needs and requirements of an entity; a ‘self’ that has no inherent solidity or existence of its own. I’m dismayed, of course, when it all gets swept away in randomness and returns later, subject to the kamma outcome (vipaka) from some other time.

The outer world just rolls along, as it does, in all its diversity, and wholly neutral. Whether there’s a belief in this or that, makes no difference; it’ll only always, ever be, just how it seems. The devastating emptiness of it all means the population is driven to go out, get and do. Attain and protect and defend – it can be a battlefield. To avoid and deny, to have fear and anxiety and be controlled by authority and feel threatened with the flimsy nature of existence, although the absolute timelessness of the world (anicca), is the beauty of it.

I’m aware the population are not able to see it like that; holding on to beliefs, clutching at straws, and quite unaware that they are maintained in this unknowingness of the world like penned animals are by the farmer, well intentioned though he may be, in order to cultivate a special kind of hunger, clinging and craving (upadana tanha) for consumer goods – the economy depends on this. The greater the craving, the faster the turnover of stock and the Western style of God together with governments and the corporations are simply involved in farming the population.

Workers structure their lives around employment and this fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism. They can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

‘There is a path to walk on, walking is being done but there is no traveller. There are deeds but there is no doer. There is no self. The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole]


Photo: A dramatic explosion is caught on camera outside of the Capitol building amid pro-Trump riots / REUTERS

world without end

POSTCARD#399: Phuket-Bangkok flight: The wing seems to extend into the clouds, like the perspective of a highway leading off into the sky. A curious illusion, although no more curious than the illusion that’s all around: seeing the seeing; awareness of the awareness; knowing the knowing. The plane tips over and on the other side, inside the cabin there’s the view of the islands with Andaman Ocean filling the cabin windows all along the aisle of this partially empty plane, due to covid restrictions.

Masked passengers spaced out in the aircraft interior with an empty seat between each person. After a while Jiab and M fall asleep, and I’m left without a book and no phone – it’s a short flight. Looking out through the windows on all sides, at the clouds in the sky. The illusion of being motionless while travelling at 600 mph. How strange… everything is so quiet and still, clouds seem to enter into the interior. A masked stewardess appears through the wispiness and mists of high altitude spaces and asks me if I need anything from the drinks cart? Thanks, no, everything is heightened as it is.

Conspicuous eye makeup above the face mask, gestures with her head to say okay if you need anything… and pushes the drinks cart down the aisle, glasses tinkling a strangely familiar chord or tune I used to sing to.

Look out the window again and reassuring to see this wonderful broad wing surface out there, holding us stable in this strange void, moving at 600 mph, in a great whoosh above the surface of the planet. The whine of engines and this immense energy that catapulted all of us up here, an amazing technological feat in the right context becomes just the mechanical nature of things. Assembled pieces form the aerodynamic flying machine, wing structure anchored under the seating aisles so that passengers are sitting on top of a sort of swept-back flying crucifix.

The descent is quite bumpy, luggage compartments overhead rattle and creak in the vibration. For a moment there’s an awareness of tremendous velocity, vulnerability, and the mind seeks to conjure up all kinds of explanations for it. I hold it there in the empty space of nothing-has-happened yet. The sound of hydraulics, down go the wheels and the earth rises up to meet us. Then there’s the felt ‘bump’ and we are down. Wheels take the weight, and the engines roar.

Exit the plane and out into the high ceilinged airport halls. Pick up the bags and head for the Taxi desk. Arriving is the departure point for the next journey, and another opens up after that. There’s something about the flow of faces passing me, pulling their luggage, holding their children. Maybe I see their faces more clearly because there are fewer of them than there was, due to covid.

The ‘world’ as a projection of the senses, everything tailored to fit and unbelievably believable… I can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, and taste it. It looks real but what is ‘real’? ‘Real’ is only my perception of it. I need to remind myself it’s like this, the illusion is so compelling… I become the ‘self’ that inhabits this body, appearing in the being-ness, appearing as ‘me’ and part of the whole thing; world without end.

another kind of tsunami

POSTCARD#398: Phuket [say: pooket]: Shades of grey give way to shafts of light. The long dark night is relieved by daylight of day. A black crow flies through the remaining darkness: crawcraw, announcing its presence, a being, yet not a being, a location in time and space. It flies between the buildings with louder and louder calls echoing from the walls, until it passes over the top of the block where we are situated, CRAWCRAW! The sound gets fainter as it disappears behind the next building, then into the distance … crawcraw.  I’m listening to that sound until nothing can be heard at all and there’s only me, deaf with listening.

A sleepless night… isolate the headache, I’m exhausted with the perception, the interpretation, ideas. Remove anything that encourages the tendency to fall into the dream, the concept, the delusion. It simply is-as-it-is. Now it’s morning and time for everything to move on; what’s left over falls back into last night. Looking forward, I feel the headache could be less up-front in awareness quite soon and it’s time for breakfast – see where that gets me. Leave Jiab sleeping, and along the marble-tiled corridor, the sweeping staircase, note the Sino-Portuguese mansion architecture. Now into the breakfast room and looking around, out the window, round the corner… nobody here.

Take the table by the window… me and my headache. Silence, it feels like that Sunday morning, sleep-late feeling – but it’s 7 am Thursday, and maybe I’m the only one awake… is there anybody else here? Awareness poised, wait and see… the world seen as an empty hotel/ Sino-Portuguese mansion/ breakfast room, coastal winds blow through, continuous streams of sensory data from the ‘outside world’ pass into this body/mind, processed at eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind constructs thought patterns, preliminary drafts, concepts that evolve in clarifications, all the reasons why – the ‘how’ of things rather than the ‘what’.

A pigeon flutters in, comes to rest on my window ledge, folds away it’s wings, and there’s this small bird-sized sigh, filling its lungs with air, releasing it and a little ‘bob’ of the fat round body. It sees my image through the glass, looks at me curiously, extended neck turns, then gets involved with preening its feathers in strangely revealing postures.

I hear a toilet cistern being flushed – soon after there’s the sound of someone moving plates and things around. I go and see; only one person to lay out these tables and serve food? Sawadi-khrap, I give her my order for an omelette and toast, get a cup of coffee, the newspaper and back to my table. Swallow headache medicine in advance of the food arriving. Read the headlines – aha! It’s a holiday [Constitution Day, 10 December, 2020] that’s why there’s no staff. No tourists either (aha! again), of course, because of the Covid 19 restrictions.

We took a taxi yesterday to Pa tong beach, very little traffic on the way, closed down shops everywhere and very few foreigners on the beach. Sympathy for the Phuket people, who managed to survive the tsunami in 2004, the loss of life and economic ruin. Followed by the coronavirus in 2019, another kind of tsunami in a place that is dependent on tourism.

Newspaper articles: The only way for foreign tourists to enter Thailand is with the Special Tourist Visa (STV), and a 14-day quarantine. The STV is allowing 40 tourists a day to enter; in 2019 daily arrivals averaged nearly 110,000. Only a quarantine-free welcome can deliver the numbers needed to resuscitate the tourist industry.

According to the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, tourism businesses in Phuket suffered a loss of 180 billion baht (€4.84 billion/$5.72 billion) in the first half of 2020.

How to open the country safely? Thailand cannot wait for vaccines. They stand no chance of eliminating the disease globally. A more realistic solution comes from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Director: “The end of the pandemic is the moment that we as a community are going to learn how to live with this pandemic.”

Historical note: Phuket island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, frequently mentioned in 16th Century foreign ships’ logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. Phuket was never colonised by a European power.


 

wordless and indefinable

POSTCARD#397: Phuket (say: pooket): The first time for us (Jiab and me), in many months, to be ‘away’. Short attention span due to being in one place in time then in another place another time. In this other place we’re in, lies the memory of what happened in that place, up-to-date but all-too-soon it is replaced by the experience of the next place in time, thus pushing things along and along… time connected with place.

The car came for us early that morning headlights ablaze, at the house in Nontaburi, and daylight was only just coming up when we arrived downtown at the condo, forty-five minutes later. This is the thing about having two places of residence, arrivals and departures don’t mean the same as they did because there’s no point of origin. The travelling between two separate halves gets to be structured into chunks of attention that last for the duration of their passing and are replaced by the next chunk of attention.

M was still sleeping when we got there – teenagers sleep and grow long limbs like tree branches. So eventually we got her to wake up, she started a small breakfast there and finished it in a plastic bag when we were in the car headed for the airport.

Smooth, sweeping highway between tall buildings. Awareness of ‘the whole thing’ is not yet engaged and there’s only just enough time to decide what this is before it changes into something else. Everything is as it is for a moment of consciousness, and another – then it changes again. Thought is a downloadable app – install/uninstall, thinking is the whole story; random episodes, snippets, individual words. In the interval that the mind is engaged in ‘thinking it’, everything moves on and I can never seem to catch up – can never find the right words to express it… wordless and indefinable.

Fragments of a thought arise again, pieced together from associated thoughts, memories of a past time brought into present time, together with things thought about in future time. Pause for a moment and everything stops… just the circumstance itself. It takes some effort to get it started again. Maybe there is only one moment – only one, all the time.

Language is like an overlay placed on reality, gives everything an identity, tells the story, creates a fiction I get lost in. Nothing is what I think it is. The present moment feels like it’s an immediate event occurring ‘now’, but there’s also a feeling maybe, that it’s not that at all.

Time is a measurement I apply – applied time. Maybe this is something that’s not happened yet… it happens later, gets reflected upon and what I think is ‘now’ is actually a fraction of a moment of hindsight situated in future time? How can I be sure things are what I think they are when I’m only always just feeling my way through something not experienced yet? Looking at what it’s not and everything on the other side of that, must be what it is.

The huge airport looms up and engulfs us three small people, getting smaller and smaller, with rolling-along-luggage at our feet and swept into the mass of human beings coming from somewhere and going to another somewhere.

“All life is a single event: one moment flowing into the next, naturally. Nothing causing everything. Everything causing everything.” [Wu Hsin]


 

lonesome highway 2

POSTCARD#396: Bangkok: [Reblog from September 3, 2013]: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the toll way to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope down at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, we might just end up stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine is gone. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world.

“Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]


 

a somewhere-else place

POSTCARD#391: Bangkok: Awake in the darkness before 6 am, lift the body up into the folded legs position, get seated on two hard pillows sinking into the mattress so I can hold my position comfortably just above the level of the bed, kinda floating there with the knees supported by the mattress and rolled up edges of quilts pushed into the gaps. It takes a moment or two to get it feeling right… then there is only the breath.

Breath entering the body. Impact of incoming air in the nasal passage, “Breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng”. The breath hurries away, then comes back again as if it has forgotten something – searching all through the body, then it withdraws. Breath enters the body again, this time like a gust of wind, blows everything all over the place. Withdraws in a moment and it’s gone.

Vivid sweeps of colour and a curious light illuminating the space perceived behind the eyes. Mind is aware of the pain that’s always here, otherwise mesmerized by the form and function of the body, only slightly held in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid lizard-like slides over surface of smooth eyeball and that strangely seen light entering my darkness; just this…

Twittering birds in the trees outside tell me it’s near daybreak, sensory processes perceive the world, aware that it’s an upside down reflected hologram the brain and optic nerve make sense of – understood but impossible to see it as it is. Or is this how it is… in its as-it-is-ness? Was this world here before I was born? Duality. Everything just going on as it is now, without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating; birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, here in this thin slice of time, revisiting the discussion; all that was said, received, held, seen, nurtured.

Then, a window opens. There’s a visitor arriving from somewhere, thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. He appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, string showing round the neck at the collar; latch-door key kid, scruffy uniform, bleeding at the knee. Teacher in a gentle voice says, ‘You have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says ‘yes Miss, and shuffles out of the room to go and see the nurse about the knee. Teacher was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today. For me, as an adult it remained something unlearned, but bearing a familiarity and intuitively known when it became conscious.

Daylight is here and I’m now lying on the bed, thinking about the small boy as he was in a state of anxious urgency every day and for many years to come. No one at home for support, forgetful and undecided because of the struggle to ‘get it right’ and nobody to reassure him that yes, you can leave book-work and use intelligent guesswork. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough.  

I’m telling myself this of course too late for it to be to be acted upon. I had to take the long way round; wasted years disappeared, searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, shelter, gratification, everything thrown to the wind. Stumbling and crashing through the successes and failures of many lives, and coming to India more than thirty years ago – there to be suddenly awakened to “The Whole Story”. It took me a very long time to grow up, and even now at the age of 73 years, I feel like an adolescent. Maybe I stayed young and it’s the world that got old…?

I continue to return to these windows that open in memory. There must be a larger awareness that includes this, here-and-now… an awareness of one thought that includes awareness of another. There’s something that allows me to consider this, I’m seeing it from a somewhere-else place.