limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

somewhere in the city

POSTCARD#306: Bangkok: Alarm goes off at 04.00, hand-reach and it’s silenced in a quiet darkness. My footsteps going downstairs seem to me to be too loud for the baby sleeping. Thankfully, I reach the ground floor without waking the boy. I make coffee and half a toasted bagel for Jiab who is going to a meditation centre near Pak Chong – a three hour journey. We speak quietly, the car comes, filling the gated entrance with headlights, a soft door-slam and she’s gone

Jiab’s elder sister Pi Sao comes downstairs, she is the smiling grandmother of the child, visiting here from down South, an overnight journey by train. Pi Sao gets up early to offer food to the three monks who come into our part of the city, just after daylight.

She goes into the kitchen for the three small bags of food she prepared last night. They are placed on a tray and she brings them into the room. I’m watching her from the computer table as she goes out and kneels at the entrance to the house with the tray raised to a point that’s level with her forehead. She stays in that position for a longish time, could be a minute. Suddenly I’m aware of an extraordinary easeful peace. The monks appear in a blaze of colour, pale tangerine robes, and accept the food placed into their metal bowls. They chant blessings anumodana, on receiving the food and they’re on their way.

I allow the blessings to fall over me and come inside me, and for a moment it becomes me. I’m overwhelmed with boundless bliss, then it’s gone. There’s so much I don’t know, I want to say to her, thank you and how much this small moment of samadhi means to me. Yes, but my baby-babble of the Thai language is not enough to express these uncommon things. Besides I’m pretty sure Pi Sao doesn’t want to talk about anything thought to be near to the mystical experience, for fear of stepping into the realm of ghosts, and supernatural beings.

All these years and all that I have are these tentative steps into learned processes of cultural behaviour, requiring an alert watchfulness I discovered long before hearing the word ‘mindfulness’. Remembering over and over again that the focus is on the intention to stay mindful always, and somehow this got deeply embedded. It has been more than two decades after all, and now this attention has become a built-in wake-up bell that rings every time mindfulness wanders: ting-ting-ting-aling-ting-aling

And these days, now the headache is with me, I’m watching the breath go in and go out much more than I used to. Depending on the wake-up bell, ting-aling-ting-aling. It’s the alertness of samadhi and great peace and bliss that goes with it, but more often than not, it’s the on-going narrative and I’m engaged in deconstructing familiar patterns of habit where I criticize myself for having the pain: pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this.

Strong angry emotions, and the wake-up bell rings, ting-aling-ting-aling…. return to watching the breath, in-breath, out-breath – heart beat – the utter functioning of being alive, and the alertness of choosing not to get locked into the ways and means of endurance, tolerating the suffering allows an attachment to it and an associated habitual response forms over the years.

The effort is in separating the pain into two parts; there’s the pain itself, and the pain of resisting the pain; I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there… desiring it to not-exist, vibhava-tanha – wanting it to go away. The alertness is directed towards the pain of resisting the pain and allowing that to withdraw.

It’s about finding the Middle Way, the truth of suffering and the path leading to the extinction of that suffering is the most pressing need, the only true and worthy purpose in life – for the sake of well-being, peace-of-mind and all things considered are considered….

“Peace is not a destination, but a starting point. Find that peace that rests behind anything and anybody and bring it into your world”. [Shakti Caterina Maggi]



Excerpts from an older post, also some notes I made and can’t remember the original source.

the karma of getting there

POSTCARD#304: Chiang Mai : 7am: The sound of a text message wakes me; Jiab arrived in Bangkok. Overnight flight from Delhi – and… what’s this? “Have you ordered a taxi yet?” Hmm? Taxi? What day is it? Oh no! I’m leaving today, not tomorrow… a flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag… quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow a headache pill, into taxi and it’s a struggle to stop the rushing and bumping into things in my head, breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport.

Okay for time, as long as nothing untoward takes place, like what happened on the way to the airport once, in a taxi stuck in a long line of cars. A very strong smell of something like an omelet… what’s going on? We get to the obstruction, a collision of some sort involving a pickup truck filled to the maximum with trays of eggs… broken eggs everywhere, egg shells floating in puddles of egg all over the road surface. The egg-man in the middle of the sea of raw eggs sitting on the edge of his truck, head in hands.

Reminds me I have my headache to think about, and how best to manage that having swallowed a pill before breakfast – slightly dizzy, just to make things worse. We are at the airport, and embark on the karma of this route; the directional momentum through escalators, corridors, doorways – catch a glimpse of other people in their karmic paths. I enter and exit enclosed airport spaces that contain me in their capacity for a moment then I’m gone. Passing through other portals, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my small seat area, looking out through the window, under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we are now descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit.

I feel stretched, part of me is 367 miles away, back at the condo in Chiang Mai having breakfast and listening to the birds interrupt the silence. Another part of me is gone with M, to New Zealand. M is my Thai niece now aged 14. She looks like a miniature adult. It was the day before yesterday, I went with her to the airport, we all had lunch, me and M and her mum and after that, I’m in the back seat with M, bags everywhere, a leisurely drive to the airport, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly mummy says something in Thai about a passport, M replies, saying she doesn’t have it! Car swerves across the highway, U-turn at the next opening and we are headed back the way we came. Mummy driving like a mad person, steering with one hand on the wheel, and with the other, calling the teacher who is going with the kids to New Zealand to say sorry M might be a little late.

So we got there, Mummy runs into the house to get the passport and while she’s away, M says to me quietly that they had to leave their house that morning exactly at the auspicious time given them by a ‘holy’ person, and mummy forgot the passport then, because she was too busy with getting the exact time precisely  right.

Enough said about that, another wild race back to the airport. Meeting the others and it all ended well, M waved to me at departures, went to New Zealand and took a part of me with her.

It’s the karma of getting there, I’m just mindfully aware of the direction and being propelled through the portals and gateways: this and then that, and the next thing. Some people, burdened with their superstitions for better, for worse need to be blessed by the holy person – and I suppose some would regard the egg-man as an example of someone who should have gone to receive the blessing but he didn’t and there you are.

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. [Kuan Yin]


 

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]


 

auld acquaintance

POSTCARD#295: Bangkok: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” The first line of Burns’ song, sung at midnight at the end of the year, could be seen in a Buddhist way – shouldn’t we simply let go of things? Relinquish whatever is held, be it for good reason or otherwise. The Second Noble Truth: suffering is caused by attachment, therefore detach from the object.

The old year is going, the new year waiting behind the curtain. I am another manifestation of awareness, a world of sensory data passes through me at entry points: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and mind. There’s no tangible self here, life looking in through the eyes, as well as out, input/output, and the experience of this room, outside-in space that contains the embodied sensory apparatus I identify as ‘my’ self… and a self slips into view, as if beckoned; flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being, a temporary presence appearing in an agreed-upon reality.

In another sense, the question: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot? “ helps me to understand there’s nothing to be gained further by fighting with this headache that sometimes stabs me unexpectedly and grumbles in a discontented way the rest of the time. So I live with it, and take the medicine. It means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things not clearly stated in their own place and time – otherwise I’m okay.

Yes, it’s been so long now, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not have a headache all the time. The medicine does seem to work, or maybe the headache is not as bad as it was. I don’t feel it as much as I did, it’s just always there – I’m aware that my life is not quite the ‘it’ that it was… but thankful for small mercies, as one of my aunties would say.

And surely they would be aware of the need simply to be mindful (although the word mindfulness wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in their day, when paying attention to what was wise), thus being careful not to misjudge the dimensions of a step in going upstairs and thus fall in a heap. It’s like ‘fumbling the ball’ the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and you’re in hospital with two broken ribs.

I’ve been there, recovered from it, and have a wary eye open for the next attempt by gravity to bring me down. As long as that level of mindfulness is present, all is well. So I’ll take this opportunity to wish fellow members of the blogosphere, one and all, a Happy New Year 2018.


Photo by Berti Buffy, Shwedagon Burma

this too

POSTCARD#293: New Delhi: Getting ready now for a change in surroundings, mindfulness is not a choice but a necessity in these preparations for the last hop, skip, jump through the window leading to another reality. First is the enthusiasm (viriya), Right Effort and an attitude of gladly engaging in wholesome activities and virtuous actions. Thus I am here, candlelight, and seated on the meditation cushion, heavens above, earth below. There is foundation in this locality, weight; gravity prevents attention from flying away. A large bathroom towel wrapped over the legs and tucked under to keep out the cold. Blanket over the shoulders and upper body and head enclosed in the darkness surrounding flame flicker of a single yellow candle.

Respect for the the noise of neighbors in rooms nearby… a muffled clatter bang crash from next door doesn’t disturb me, watching the in-breath, out-breath, and this is how it is. Familiarity of place, not looking for anything, not trying to find ‘it’, or whatever, just sitting here. Cool air on my face, framed in the small opening at the top of a warmly wrapped body – and even if at times, attention is drawn towards a small enactment of accelerated thinking, it can be asked to leave here for the time being… this too is overseen by another awareness.

The fact that there is peace in the absence of stormy times, helps of course and seeing that, the sensation of peace becomes bliss. Even so, all this is seen by all pervading non-self awareness, and with that thought I find that everything has side-stepped the sense of ‘wanting’ this and that and the next thing – ‘I’ am not creating it, got nothing to do with it, ‘seeing-awareness’ remains as it is; awareness of the awareness. Seeing the seeing, knowing the knowing. It moves on as I return to the breathing.

Again and frequently there’s the enactment of thinking arising and turning now to how I see it in the mind’s eye; the last of our things packed and the flight to Bangkok leaves in the morning of Friday 22nd December. Getting through the airport congestion is of course a way of preparing passengers for the contained experience of air travel. Rows of seats with as much personal space as there’d be in an elongated flying bus, you could say. Walking with cabin bag on wheels following behind, through a series of corridors like tubes in a telescope, one inside the other, becoming smaller and smaller, reduced to gradually squeeze us into the self-construct; the way we are and the lifetimes lived with it. Finding my seat number, the ‘me’ in the body, the voice in my mind, the narrator telling the story saying, this is how it is… we are seated, please fasten your seat belts, a small window to see blue sky out there, above the clouds.

Landing at Bangkok and another flight into the early evening of Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. Landing, exit, placed on the ground, carrying the medicated headache as if it were a luggage item at the belt. Taxi and we’re at the apartment. Hello everyone, put on the clothes of who I am here, become the person who lives in this location. Pick up the thread, the sequence of time unfolds by itself, events occur in the forward momentum I create by facing the direction I’m in. The identity I have is here-and-now, home is where the heart is… hold that thought, Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes fellow Bloggers for 2018.


Photo by Berti Buffy: An official at the Sri Harmandir Sahib (lit. “the abode of God”), also known as Golden Temple and the Darbar Sahib, is the holiest Gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism – also an open house of worship for all men and women, from all walks of life and faith.

 

in the end there is no ending

POSTCARD#292: New Delhi: Packing has started here, the rental agreement comes to an end 18th December, and we stay with our Japanese friends until 22nd December, then it’s goodbye everyone, we’re on a flight to Chiang Mai via Bangkok. Gone from India with all our possessions, after nearly seven years here. Gone too from this sweet little apartment – I want to have something to remember it by… steal some cutlery or a bath towel? Can’t do that, relinquishment… accept that that part of my mind where it once was, is now claimed by new tenants who walk around these rooms, saying; well, this is nice, thinking for a moment, who lived here before we came? Territorial self kicks in and it’s gone, bearing a new identity.

Gone is gone, but the PHN headache is with me again… a buzzing old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed but never gotten around to doing. Under the influence of powerful pain meds then, you could say, I’m writing to my future self about living here, in order to open a window on this thin slice of time, and revisit these rooms, the conversations and all that was said here, received, held, seen, nurtured… noticing the tendency for a particular memory to be displaced by the next moment of remembering… and on and on until sadly, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder.

But that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. On 26th December I go to the Pain Clinic in Bangkok to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the right occipital nerve in the scalp. Until then, a malaise of discontent rules; flashes and flares in spurts and sparks nearly all through the day and waiting for me to wake up in the morning for the start of another day of jostling push and shove, tug and pull. Not writing much, only the wild lightning flickering of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, keyed in just before the crash and burn, and assimilated into the whole as it forms.

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 and adhere to it in single-mindedness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too. I’m the one falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway from frightful things unforeseen – disaster movie showing it crashing through the restraints of planning; too much 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 it’s always somehow incomplete, never reaching the end, letters I’ve written, never meaning to send – how could we reach that final completion 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 the world, as we know it will come to an end eventually, collapsing like a dead star, matter reduced to an atom and gone in a flicker, a spark, pftt…

Or maybe it’ll be slower; bits start to fall off, clink, clatter, crash – you hardly notice it, and there’ll come a day when the 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… but surprise-surprise, in another kind of temporality, the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and we can continue where we left off. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, anicca 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 (Inland Empire)]


Picture shows sun setting on the lotus temple, Delhi, a Bahá’í House of Worship

incredible lightness of being

POSTCARD#274: New Delhi: about the permanent headache, the anaesthesiologist lady in the white room says there’s another kind of treatment available: Pulsed RadioFrequency (PRF), so I could consider this rather than coping with the pain by self-medication. The new procedure stuns the nerve that’s causing the pain. Agreed, let’s fix it for 25th July, and all of a sudden with some degree of excitement I’m looking forward to a major change in my life.

That was then, this is now. I got the flight back to New Delhi from Bangkok, all the usual rumble tumble and really, what’s all the fuss about, I don’t feel the pain as much now as I did at the beginning, nearly two years ago. The meds give me a space where there is almost no pain at all. The lingering ‘mind’ aspect of the pain (that re-minds me about other things to do with the pain) is pushed out of the way due to a particular attitude/ focus of mind that doesn’t find it interesting to be with these associated shadows of mind.

Forgetting, of course, the deep stabs of pain, which penetrate, like long steel blades, and there are no meds to make that go away, ringing the urgency bell in the dark morning of an environment that seems bleak, unforgiving, and just BAD. Anxiety and despondency, the evolving stages of pain and confusion in between, and retracing my steps that seem to have once brought me to a place of peace, like entering a room within a room, and there’s a door leading to another room and so on, until I’d forgotten which room was which, with no plan or diagram showing how it came back to the present time. Why? I think that somewhere along the line I must have said to myself, enough is enough, this’ll do! And a large chunk of it (The ‘rooms inside rooms’) was erased from memory completely. So now there’s no finding my way back to there and then, how it was before all this happened.

The meds seemed to be as much a problem as the headaches; the nightmarish Alice in Wonderland bottle with the label saying: DRINK ME appears and long after that experience I’d wake up in the morning, roll over on the pillow and it felt like I drank too much wine the night before, but I don’t drink any alcohol at all (unrelated: that’s another story) whatever, like a light that shines in the darkness, I’m a meditator; early Buddhism/ the lineage of Ajahn Chah.

The headaches have ricocheted through these quiet spaces so much I’ve had to expand the boundaries to include mind states that are more like contemplation than focused meditation. Every time I gratefully fall into the meditative state of mind, it feels like I’ve been away from here for such a long time… returning to the knower, the fundamental mind, addressing the objects of the mind, thoughts, and phenomena arising in the mind. Staying there with this incredible lightness of being, and happy enough to not reach out much more than that.

Right View and Suffering, okay once I’d gotten rid of the adversity attachment (note to self: this will change too). Now there’s an opportunity to know the pain is likely to ease with this new ‘procedure’, I’m into this new stage of what’s happening with this headache and the degrees of focus, (no-one seems to know) leading to the confusion again, the kind that had to go away, away and get out of here – not thinking at all that the desire to get-rid-of-it is the same as the desire to-have-it. Polarizations, there’s no difference between ‘out’ and ‘in’, good or bad’, and so much more. So I have to let it in through the barrier I built. Let it go and let it in, try that and see… close the door that wasn’t open to it.


PIcture at top: A wall painting in Bangkok’s Suwannabume airport

the forever turning

POSTCARD #263: New Delhi: House agent came to the door, saying they are going to demolish the building, and when would be a good time for the architect to come to see the house – it was said like how we decide to delete a message on the phone. We knew about the plan and are prepared, but the emphatic bluntness of it…  what’s gone is gone, the forever turning wheel. “Don’t let the sun go down on me.” My world is tipping over, mind driven by some kind of energy, a curiosity and desire to get involved with it. Words come out grouped in chunks, searching for a connection as if they had a volition of their own.

The characteristic mind reaction when confronted with an immutable truth; when I understood that my PHN headache is a permanent condition. As Jude says, the mind is creative no matter what the stimuli. Imagination let loose like a racehorse, goes careering off then is yanked back unwillingly and all kinds of fearful things arise, created by the struggle. How to have mindfulness so I can catch that creative awareness before I get hijacked by how bad it seems.

World-wide monitoring of events, immediate media coverage, on the spot reporting in a here-and-now performance starring ‘he’ who is about to be demolished: boom, crash, bang! It’s finished before it began, the whole scene gets folded into itself and packed away, gone – like it never happened, no evidence remains. Grab the bags and let’s get out of here. ‘I’ become ‘him’ over there, third person singular, object pronoun, making an escape out the window before the walls cave in. Away in the car through a swirling cloud of masonry brick dust, and onto the long straight road to the airport.

Check-in for the overnight flight to Bangkok and the day after tomorrow I go to see the lady doc down-town in the white room (link to: Finding The Way Out), to discuss, again, the possibility of an electrical zap to the nerve and that’ll be the end of my constant headaches. Comparison with the stand-off in the Korean peninsula… I’d like it if the whole thing could be put on fast-forward so I can get it over and done with, but it hasn’t even started yet. I’m here on the plane and in my mind, are pictures of a house falling down around my ears.

The flight is a directionless experience. Look out the window, total darkness, no sense of moving forward, we could be flying sideways. When I try to think of it, there’s the image of a journey that leads from here to there, the route we take is an elevated highway in the sky, we’re in a long silver night coach with the moon and stars and stewardesses with the drinks trolley. Occasional air turbulence suggests small bumps on an otherwise very smooth road surface – sufficient to tip me over and fall asleep, with not even the sense that we’re going anywhere… just the noise of the engines and hiss of the air.

The present moment is not an absolute. It’s something that we’re [unconsciously] fabricating, and the goal of the practice is to learn how to fabricate it in a new [nirvanic] direction…. The present is here to be used, and the teachings are here to teach us how to use it wisely” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “The Use of the Present,” 2016-11-28]


photo by Jiab in the South of Thailand

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]