terrestrial ocean

POSTCARD #255: Bangkok: Elevated passageways and corridors in the mind creaking like we’re on an old sailing ship, swaying with wind and air currents, the swell of the sea and the flip of waves at their peak. These lightweight structures hold the sails, huge areas of stretched canvas sailcloth – I can only see a part of the whole. The creak and strain of long hemp ropes, tarry old wood decking and a wide-open sky. Then the pain comes, ringing the urgency bell… see how it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way… make way! Allow the alarm to ring and let there be absolutely no resistance, no tightening up, just letting it be there… the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off. In the Buddhist sense I’m drawing attention to an awareness of Suffering and the cause of suffering, but not just labeling it; ‘the cause’ of Suffering is the 2nd Noble Truth, no, I’m asking, what is this ‘cause’? No labeling from here on.

What is the cause of Suffering and what is the cause of the cause? The desire for it to not be there, the confrontation, the avoidance, resistance… obstructing it, subverting it by any means. Running away from it, wanting things to be different than the way they are in a totally impossible way.

Childlike, I can see my (child) self as a baby, attending to whatever object appears, comes into range, immediately focused, the totality of each thing, as it arises – conscious experience without language.

Flickers of memory like this… food is a wonderful experience, it’s not Food, it’s Wonderful, it’s not ‘wonderful’ – no words for it, it’s a feeling(?). Then, just as easily, the bad, the awful – then the aftermath of the disaster, early childhood systems of understanding the world – but for my (child) self there’s no ‘understanding’, because there are no words in infancy to describe anything. Catastrophic! I am the cause of this hurtful chain of events. How it was then, and how it is now are no different. I am the same ‘me’ as I was then, language acquisition is here now, I’m expanded, filled out, developed and extended into the world but still the same ‘me’ (time can disappear in this kind of investigation), so how can I help protect the ‘me’ that was then, with the ‘myself’ that is now, equipped with adult skills?

Meditation. I’m sitting on the meditation cushion like a chick in the nest, cheep-cheep… waiting for the return of the Parent Bird (mother, father, both or neither) and, beak totally wide open, like a suitcase lying open on a bed waiting to be packed with things, my (child) self perceiving the Parent Bird visiting the nest (or not visiting), and for me now seated on the cushion too, there’s the acceptance, the wide-open giving-way-to it.

Maybe also in adversity, how much I’d prefer to not do this any more, because the recognition of the familiar forms of interaction between my (child) self and authority figures in the family group are too scary – for a moment I ‘see’ the blocking… but there aren’t any words, it’s something felt.

Simply how it came to be the way it is, but no words. A wetness at the eye, a glimpse of my (child) self receiving conscious experience, and the perception of it has shaped, formed the person I am today – it is the person I am today.

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 the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

It’s this that tells me, when all other options are gone, there’s no running away from it now, I have to turn around and go back into the pain… for a split second the pain eases, an extraordinary and out-of-this-world feeling.

Absolutely no escape from the pain… then finding this window I know that’s always here, and everything is swept away like a flood of water finding its way through a landscape, rapidly filling up all the spaces and getting into all the corners… I am a sailing ship on a terrestrial ocean.


 

are birds free?

img_5495POSTCARD #242: New Delhi: Early afternoon flight yesterday, from Ch’mai to Bangkok gets in around 2pm, and Jiab was waiting for me at Arrivals. She had travelled up from the south that same morning. So we go by taxi into town, planning to get there for the 4pm appointment at a central Bangkok hospital to have the needle in the scalp, right occipital nerve (PHN nerve block treatment).

Clear road, all the way in, elevated highway, seemingly afloat without support, and pointing in a line between these tall skinny glass/steel buildings on either side, reaching up into the sky from foundations somewhere down below – a futuristic sci-fi city perspective image drawn with straight road penetrating into the urban landscape reducing down to a single vanishing point. Our exit comes up about 45 minutes into the drive, and the outside lane slopes off down into the shadowy gloom of street level – traffic yes, but no hold up at all. Good, it’s that time of day when lunch hour is finished and school-pick-up traffic not yet begun.

Suddenly we’re in town and what struck me was, so many people wearing black. Everywhere… you could say the entire population was dressed like this. I’d forgotten the country is in mourning. TV announcers wear black, the backgrounds against which they sit are in shades of black. Blackness is a tangible thing, a world devoid of color, now into the third month since the death of their exceptional King.

The city functions as it normally does and for us, a clear pathway opens up through traffic, green lights all the way. Into narrower streets, and narrower still, then the one-way urban lane (soi) network, typical of Asian cities, with minimum clearance between walls on either side for cars and motorbikes traveling at high speed.

The acceleration and rapid gear change sounds, insistent GPS voice on the driver’s phone in Thai and on Jiab’s iPad in English, overlapping each other, causing them to have to shout to be heard – identifying the turnings to take, no, not this one, the next one the urgency and confusion of it was exactly the wrong thing for my headache. But we’re there in no time, arriving at the place exactly 4pm.

Tumble out of the taxi, along the corridor, into the small neurology/pain management outpatients, and my name is called just then, as if I’d been sitting in the waiting room for half an hour. Good to not have that nervous anticipation of worrying as the clock ticks on. So I get up on the gurney and into the lying-down position, left side, with head on pillow. The nurse pulls curtain: shweesh, all the way round: shweesh, Doc is saying; now you may feel a little pain here. Needle slides in… the initial shock of it is astonishing, barely a hair’s width, narrow-gauge hypodermic, and I’m aware of pressure; he’s pushing it around, trying to get the nerve, then the time it takes to void the syringe. Everything moves up a notch, jaw clench, rigid body and holding in the mind – is this what hell is like? Immediately the small ‘self’ leaves the body. A voice says now take a deep breath, and the needle comes out.

The ease of the anesthetic kicks in immediately. Euphoria and laughter, the silliness of rubbery knees articulating legs, and shock of feet unexpectedly impacting with floor as we walk along the corridor and wait there for a while. It’s over; I’m folded into another taxi home, and must have slept all the way through. Awake again at 3 am for the first flight over here to New Delhi. Anesthetic has worn off by this time and there’s the pain of the bruise where the needle went in and I don’t remember much about that journey, only later I realized the headache came along too.

One good thing is I’m getting nearer to an acceptance of it; the actual pain, and what I make of it, are two different things. At the start, September 2015, all the doctors I spoke with said it would get better after a year, and when you pass the 5-year milestone, it would be much easier. The sort of thing prisoners doing a life sentence might depend on, I thought at the time. But it is true – hectic it may be, I can see in the interval of time passed, the headache seems to be not as bad as it was, because there’s no memory of what life was like without it.

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me, “How good, how good does it feel to be free?” And I answer them most mysteriously, “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?” [Bob Dylan, Ballad in Plain D]