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]


 

sentience

img_4903POSTCARD #237: Bangkok: Awake at 3.30am, Jiab had to get the early morning flight to Delhi. Coffee, bagels, and conversation. Cases loaded in the taxi… bye-bye. Lights diminish in the perspective of where the straight road leads. How strangely the moonlight illuminates the garden. I go back into the house, put away her warm coffee cup, her plate with bagel crumbs, and wash them in the kitchen sink, clink-clink. I don’t feel like going back to sleep, wide-awake because there’s no headache. I had the injection yesterday, and all that remains is the pain where the needle went in.

I’m now looking at a no headache period of a month, at least, and when the headache-free time is used up I’ll go back to see the friendly needle man in the neurology department again. In the meantime I feel like running up and down the staircase and doing crazy things. When I sit, sometimes I find I’m searching for a pain in the head that isn’t there. I’m so seldom in this ‘ordinary’ space where the headache is usually situated, I don’t know what it feels like – only the memory of how it was last time I was here. There are no words for this. What is it, sentience?

It feels miraculous, even though science would have it that the nerves are numbed in that area and no longer send erroneous pain signals to the brain. See how a technical explanation can occupy the place where the experience should be – such a lot could be said about this kind of thing. We’re so much in fear of the natural world, we’ve allowed Science to make our lives dull.

Four hours later I get a Skype call from Jiab in the Delhi house. I’m holding my phone screen like a mirror looking at Jiab sitting in the room I was in two weeks ago. What time is it there? 1½ hours earlier… trying to understand these back-to-the-future time zones again and again. The world is seen but the one who sees it, curiously absent, lost in thought somewhere in past or future time. The value of simple things… taken for granted.

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers [Basho]
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Excerpts from an earlier post: Ordinary Miracles, and with thanks to Sue Vincent & her post: Butterflies in the Rain. Gratitude also to sandrasightseer for the Basho quote. The photo of the moon is from our Thai social network

 

gone, gone, and gone

img_4482POSTCARD #222: Bangkok/New Delhi flight: An awareness of things as they are. The main event was the injection in the head and the constant (PHN) headache gone instantly. Wake up next day and it was still gone, gone as I write this, and it remains gone. So reassuring to know the transformation to ordinary things is possible, the car is back from the garage and out on the road again.

The release from head pain is still held back due to the pain of broken rib but so much easier to cope with now the headache has gone. Walking the miles in airports was thought to be a problem though, so Jiab convinced me to request a wheelchair. Wheelchair from check-in to the lounge then wheelchair to the plane, straight in and the first seat in C class section of the plane. Stewardess puts my bag away in overhead luggage space. Wonderful, I’d never been a wheelchair passenger on an aircraft before, my first time. Plenty of space in this expensive seat, a meal with endless courses, and I slept the rest of the way; so comfortable since these recent days of sudden pain, tossing and turning at night and discovering the only way to try to sleep is sitting up on an inclined wall of pillows.

The odd thing about being in a wheelchair is you approach silently, moving along very smooth floor surface feeling the vibration of small jolts of joints between tiles below, crowds part immediately. If anybody is still standing in the way friends will pull him away or the wheelchair guy says excuse me please? and they move straightaway. A few sideways glances and I resist the temptation to say Hi, how’re you doing? And sometimes feel I should try to look really sick, to provide a reason for being like this, problem is having a broken rib is not a noticable thing. But I keep looking ahead exercising the right to be in a wheelchair and humbled by the generosity of everyone giving way. Astonished by the experience of sitting on wheels in a public place, the great perspective of long airport walkways ahead and seeing the surroundings move towards and go through me. Also the thing about travelling long distances while seeing the world from a lower eye level – a familiarity, déjà vu, the memory of being a child again.

The wheelchair experience means an understanding of what helplessness is, understanding vulnerability, aging… it’s all coming unglued, bits dropping off, but the revelation comes along too there’s no point in feeling bad about yourself because you are simply incapable and that’s all there is to it. At the same time, being (temporarily) disabled gives some insight into the existential plight; the realization that most of us are held prisoner in a trance-like state, incultured into the ‘self’ fiction through the mirror of society’s fear of the unknown, living with a sense of purposelessness and not able to see it.

Not able to cope with pain, tragedy, loss; unable to see the awareness that accompanies our ordinary joys and sorrows – there’s more than one kind of awareness, this provides some relief from pain, ease and understanding; I can step back from the trauma and see it as coming from somewhere else. I can be engaged in clinging and at the same time be in a position to see that this is what’s happening. Letting go, it’s not ‘mine’ anymore.

Then we’re in New Delhi, into the Indian wheelchair and out onto the miles of ochre coloured carpet. At the end of a long time of sitting, I’m looking up at the immigration official; passport thump and wheeled in, permitted to enter the country.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” [Rainer Maria Rilke]
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Photo: Jiab’s collection from Ladakh

tipping point

IMG_3184POSTCARD #220: Chiang Mai: A long story short is that I fell, gravity got me, it gets us all in the end – flactured lib, the X-Ray man said, with poor pronunciation, in a Chiang Mai hospital. They took me home, but later that night I was having such an awful time sleeping, family members took me back, I had an injection and spent the night there. The ‘self’ is a sensory experience; everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think; cognition is a sense that responds to stimulii received through the senses. I inhabit a simulation.

Not possible to see it any other way – well, it is possible, you could see it another way but it’d just be ‘another way’of seeing the same thing. A dream-state set in the context of my being awake… There’s something about this that’s obvious, so clear and evident yet, again and again, when I look for it, it’s not there – the answer I seek is difficult to find because by seeking for it I create the state of seeking, and this makes it difficult. What happened? I’d had in fact, two falls; the first was straight back-over past the tipping point and down, crash. My PHN headache meds have something to do with that.

The second fall was some hours later when, getting up too quickly from the lying down position, then in slow motion; forgetting about the pain in the lower back, attempting to allow for that in mid-air, and the whole thing came down, collided with some hard-edged furniture on the way  … and that’s what did it for the rib.

So now I’ve two problems, one is the headache that returned, the returnee from some time ago carrying with it the strong pain meds; two is the fractured rib and mysterious, discovered bruises and scrapes. The disorientating pain meds for that too. I tread carefully, the world is a dangerous place… mindfulness is necessary. If the ‘I’ construct isn’t what this is, what is it, then? I can change the pronoun from ‘me’ to ‘it’ but it’s the same thing only there’s an ‘it’ that recognizes ‘itself’ everywhere.

“The apparent reality of the mind, body and world is imagined with the thought that thinks it. In other words, the constructs of thought, that is, the beliefs we have about the mind, body and world – are only real for thought itself.” [Rupert Spira]

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the sky is falling

ChMaiSkyM2POSTCARD #213: Chiang Mai: The sound of the alarm tone is in the dream I’m having… which came first, the event or my comprehension of it? Time-sequence resolves itself when I reach around to switch it off and life as it’s lived in ‘me’ returns to a familiarity I recognize as reasonably normal.

Five thirty in the morning, another Chiang Mai day in the rainy season, caution, check, the headache is still gone… yep it’s still gone. The only disabling thing now is the result of the body’s reaction to the headache – backache in the wake of hurricane-headache. I can lie here for a moment and get ready for the pain as I haul myself into the upright position… not too bad; the osteopath said it would get better. Okay hobble off to the shower looking for handholds on the way.

Remembering now how the osteopath looked at me standing there, and after a moment said it’s the body’s response to the last 10 months of 24/7 headache. Mind has pulled the body into a walking crouch – a kind of protective posture; shrinking into itself, slightly bended knees, bent-over back, and head sticking out like a turtle looking at the sky… the sky is falling, oh no the sky is falling, and that’s what Henny Penny said. (US: Chicken Little)

I couldn’t feel the pain of it then because of the super-pain meds I was taking. Now I don’t need the meds, the pain in the body is felt. It’ll take time for the vertebrae to ease back into where they are supposed to be. Square pegs do not fit in round holes, exactly, and I’m truly amazed by the elasticity of everything.

So much has happened in the last few days all that can be accurately said is that nothing is fixed, permanent, unchanging. This knowledge I simply stumbled upon, how the body reacts, responds, and the mind or is it circumstances (?) reveal there’s a deeper awareness in here, dormant until something like the correct password is entered then it’s activated.

Now there’s the sense of just waiting to see, no urgency, no problem about how long it takes. Something I can return to time after time and it’s not hard to understand that this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not important at all.

There are no words to say properly what it is. Language is inadequate. My 12 year-old Thai niece, M, has temporarily lost the ability to speak, transfixed as she is in the digital screen. I leaned over and asked what she was doing and she just sent the picture of the sky above (the header image) to my email… ting!

“Thus there is, in a certain sense, nothing that is directly experienced except the mind itself. Everything is mediated through the mind, translated, filtered, allegorized, twisted, even falsified by it. We are . . . enveloped in a cloud of changing and endlessly shifting images.” [C.G. Jung]


Header image: M’s pic of the evening sun seen from the apartment window yesterday

before after

IMG_0015b1bPOSTCARD #201: CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: The phone alarm goes off. I was expecting it to do that because somehow it’s been part of the dream I’m having… that thing about the order of events happening – was it before or is it after? Sweeping long-arm reach around in search of the alarm, slide it off with fingertip over glass screen and it seems like so much has happened since… who what where when how? My phone’s blinding white light in the silence fades and everything goes black again… the time is 5.30 am.

Something that’s new in my life these days is every morning, noon and night, I have to check the contents of two small carrier bags full of vitamin pills, pain pills and other pills contained in bottles, small, medium, large, with labels which tell me if it’s a ‘before’ or an ‘after’ – one of three events: breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s the kind of thing that gives you a headache but enough said about that. I have to be up early enough to take the before-breakfast meds before breakfast and I’ve forgotten… my niece M stumbles into the room in a daze. I have to see if there’s anything she needs or wants and realize oh no, the ‘before’ meds so they have to be included in the ‘after’ meds. Okay, double-check, is it ‘after’ already, or is this still ‘before’? Something in me fights rationality with a reasoning that begins somewhere after the event and travels back to where things were around the time it started, just to see if that fits okay with how we’re now forming an idea of what this is about.

I have to get to grips with these medication bottles, fumbling with childproof caps in the alarming nearness of ‘seniority’… my goodness, is this a test! Select each capsule and put it on a small dish on the table. There they are, visitors from another universe. Then, swallow, swallow and swallow. Gulp and swallow again and stop to think, where are we now… did I take this pill already or have I yet to do that? If I’ve managed to do all this correctly then the rest of the day is easy. My niece M stumbles into the room in a daze and I have to see if there’s anything she needs or wants and it’s a good thing I didn’t forget about the before-meds.

There’s a dream I had once and wrote it down on a scrap of paper as soon as I woke up. The paper has been lying around for a few years, all scruffy and folded. Hard-to-read scribble so I better get it in print before it’s faded away in time. It goes like this: I’m standing at a bus stop, waiting for the bus. It comes, and I get on. Instead of ordinary bus seats, there’s furniture, sofas, armchairs, a small coffee table, TV, curtains on the windows, and it’s laid out like a room interior. I find a place and sit down. Other passengers on the bus are sitting up properly in unmatched furniture, everybody looking around for the person who comes to get orders for snacks and drinks. Nobody comes, there’s a long interval of nothing happening at all and after a while I realize it must be because the bus hasn’t left the stop yet.

At the same moment I remember I left my shoes outside the door at the bus stop. This is because in all houses in Asia you have to leave your shoes outside when you enter. Yes, but something about this worries me – is there enough time for me to go fetch my shoes in from the doorway before the bus leaves? I feel my body trapped by something unknown, unable to move… ok, I’ll just leave the shoes there and when I get off the bus I’ll have to take someone else’s (it does happen).

But there’s something not right about this idea. I’m searching and searching, so much and with such intensity it’s extraordinary and I become convinced that I must have forgotten what it is I’m searching for. This could be a problem but I’ve convinced myself I’ll be able to recognize what is when it appears… how will I be able to know what it is then if I don’t know what it is now… hmm? Well, we have not reached that point in time yet, so let’s see. Everything’s in a shambles and disarray inside this bus, chairs and sofas all facing slightly in the wrong way. Why is it like this? Must be the constant movement of the bus going along, furniture gets shifted around – we swerve round a couple of sharp corners, and everything slithers off to the side again…

Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience. [Rita Mae Brown]

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the two-hundredth

watpohguardian-e1459584335688bPOSTCARD #200: CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: the two hundredth postcard leaves this keyboard with a question I’m hoping will find an answer. There’s more of a familiarity with the characteristics of my perpetual headache, but the months slip by and I’m postponing the plan I had to come to terms with the dependency on the medicine I need to numb the pain. Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and everything I was doing a moment ago has disappeared into the past again – the enhancement created by the meds masks many things. No sooner has it been seen than it’s gone. On the rebound, senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? But I’m caught in the conundrum of not being able to see it’s the searching for the way out that maintains the state of being lost.

After the illness came to stay (September 2015), it took a while to focus on the functioning of Mind as I’d previously known it; as the cognitive sense, the sixth sense that knows the other five senses and knows itself as the ‘self’ until attachment to that self aspect is seen through. Everything from there onwards is understood in a different way. There’s the seeing of events without the story and it all can be deconstructed carefully – indeed nowadays, there’s a fascination with this investigation, somehow believing that by taking things to pieces I’ll be able to see where the problem of dependency lies. But the investigation goes deeper and deeper, Mind changes its focus, and I discover I’m not able to find what it was I was looking for because I’ve simply forgotten the train of thought that brought me here. An uncomfortable place of attachment to something but no idea what it is. It doesn’t seem worthwhile to try to return to how things were before I started this, even if I could remember how it all fits together, which I can’t. Besides, things being as they are, putting it back together is impossible because everything has changed.

The confusion of mind like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing that can only be put together in chunks and not ever completed, means there’s always this dissatisfaction and returning to it again and again; this coming-back to look for the beginning of it… then, as if to remind me, and before I am properly aware of it, the parts come together as a felt pain. A thought now appears in a small window and the recognition of it as pain unfolds with ‘me’ suddenly playing the role of the person to whom this is happening – this is a story about ‘me’ and I’ve learned to take the dosage as soon as possible, and I leave the story and the window closes.

In the vast ease that follows I recognize an important piece of the puzzle; selected attention affects perception. What I think is the solution has been displaced by my attachment to searching for it. So, it just looks like it’s complete because time has moved on in the duration of thought arising, and everything now has the quality of being seen in hindsight.

In the peace and quiet ease of those moments when there is no driving urge to take the meds to correct this perceived pain, it’s possible to see that my attention to it is both the problem and the solution; trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want, but unknowingly caught in attachment to it. The desired state I’m seeking already belongs to ‘me’. Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even the pain, that which I consider to be the thing I hate the most, is also ‘mine’. What to do? How to learn the skill of detachment in these circumstances?

How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth! The moonlight leads the tides and the sun’s light will not be confined within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One. The deaf and the dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to One’s perfection. [Hsu Yun]

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Photo: detail of a Wat Poh Guardian taken by P Henderson. Note: special thanks to Ellen Stockdale Wolfe who kindly sent me the link to the video below of Mooji’s remarks about pain. Go to 25.50 to bypass a lengthy introduction

http://mooji.tv/freemedia/he-sees-only-the-infinite-sky-of-your-being/

the elusive moment

IMG_3672POSTCARD #199: THAILAND: In only a few days we’ve been to Bangkok, Hua Hin, and Chiang Mai , where I am now, alone with my headache that’s always here requiring attention, so I can’t do much else. Looking through the photos taken by my Thai niece M that come to my computer through our shared network. Images of the beach that carried so much meaning at the time, seem commonplace now… sadly not interesting anymore. It’s the experience of the moment; that great rush to take a photo, to capture that elusive quality of the moment. Later we see it as a record of the event, and the actual subject matter we were attracted to is caught in too wide a lens, overwhelmed in a landscape of other things.

Reminds me of the time I had to meet the Air France flight, arriving Bangkok 06.15 hrs. I got there in time, but the flight was delayed by one hour so there was time to sit in the seats at the tour group end of Arrivals, near Gate 10 and have a cup of coffee. Gate 10 is a lonely place where diplomatic vehicles park and tour groups gather, bleary-eyed and sleepless, having just got off the plane from some distant part of the world. The people around me were speaking Russian and I could see from the Arrivals board it must be the flight from Novobirisk. I googled the name on my phone and found that Novobirisk is a large industrial city in Asian Russia.

So I start to watch these Russians who are caucasians, like Europeans, and look like they’ve probably never left the area around their home in a lifetime. Stepped out of a time warp. They gather around their Thai tour-guide and have their names ticked off the list. Half an hour is allowed to have a cup of coffee; children run around, go to the toilets most of them are getting ready to get on the coach. Those who arrived first are now busy taking photos with old fashioned digital cameras, intensely absorbing everything around them. Taking photos with arms around the tour guides and taking pictures of everything; roof structure, walls, illuminated adverts, airport signage. Photos of each other posing in front of vases of purple orchids, dressed up in their best summer frocks and smiling for the camera. It’s as if they’ve emerged from black and white, greying photos of the 1950s, remote from anything I know of and yet there’s a familiarity; they could be people I knew in my childhood in the North of Scotland.

There are so many photos being taken, it’s like a small press event; digital camera lights flashing like strobe lights in a disco. I’m dazzled by it, blinded for a moment and have to look at the floor to allow normal vision to recover. Look up again and they’re leaving, the whole place captured in pixels and taken away back to Novobirsk, at the end of the holiday, where all the views of it are reassembled to form one composite image of the waiting area at Gate 10. ‘… and here is Aleksandra and Nikolai at Bangkok airport don’t they look so bright and lively?’

The tour leader has everyone present and accounted for and shouted commands gathers them together. Off they go, cameras flashing and blue lights twinkling at everything, on through the wide passageways and happily shuffling along with their luggage and running children. The mass exodus of the group is dynamic, all following the leader in front who’s holding a coloured flag high in the air so they can see it, moving as one great lake of beings in the direction of the coaches somewhere in another part of the airport.

And it’s suddenly quiet here at Gate 10, all the seats are empty and I still have time to wait for the Air France flight. This high-ceilinged place looks different, light slowly coming up and suddenly it’s daylight same as it always is. People again start to assemble in the seating area again; trickling in like water fills a pool. I see from the arrivals board It’s a group from Beijing, same as last time but the conversations are in Chinese.

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time. [Leonardo da Vinci]

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Parts of an original post titled 30 minutes: https://dhammafootsteps.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/2122/

cruel pillows [part two]

Aluvihara-Resting-BuddhaOLD NOTEBOOKS: Delhi: You may know already about my permanent headache caused by PHN on right side of the head and I’m a Buddhist so I can’t appear to be too grouchy about it. I can walk around gently balacing this headache, do my shopping and as long as things are simple and easy, I’m okay. I’ve been researching the kinds of pillows available in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s an on-going search because of my disturbed sleep at night. And it’s not easy in Chiang Mai a country town, where the staff are trained to smile, look nice and be elegant, but they don’t actually know anything about the product: I want to buy the softest pillow you have please?.

The sales girl shows me a pillow and poses beside it as I give it a little squeeze with my hand and she smiles. It’s not soft enough, try the next one, squeeze it, and sales girl, elegant, posing gives me a little smile again and I’m beginning to feel, get me out of here, there’s a headache coming on. I try every pillow they have in the shop and the sales girl is tiring of the instant smile when I squeeze; but I buy one because she was so good at posing beside the product. Get back and crash out with a bad headache. My side of the bed is full of pillows tried, discarded, there’s no space for any more.

Eventually I find one in Delhi and this pillow is so good! I take it with me everywhere; a totally soft pillow placed in my suitcase on top of everything. It’s also a good way of holding a whole lot of loose items tight in an oversized bag because the pillow expands into all the corners when you squeeze it in and zip up the bag tight. So, fling in loose items like pens, cables, adaptor plugs, knowing that the expanded pillow will hold everything in place and get to the other end, take out the pillow and everything’s like a screen-shot of how it was when you were packing at the last minute.

So I took it with me to Switzerland then all around the UK and back to Bangkok. One morning, early, Jiab puts the pillow into the washing machine. I see my pillow pegged out there on the washing line and I’m in a state of shock! Yes, she says, pillows can be put in the washing machine and I have to go out to look at it a few times hanging there in the hot sun, but it it wouldn’t dry out enough so I had to improvise something else that night and was tossing and turning for hours… cruel pillows. It was dry by the end of the next day but when I tried it that night, it was lumpy.

So I found another one in India, a crafty- artisan place, wild cotton filled fragrant pillow, I was assured. I tried it one night and it was great, so good to rest the head and feel normal. Then a couple of days later, I went for an afternoon nap – the headache is always better when it gets laid down. And, lying on my side with ear planted deep into the soft cotton, I was just drifting off into sleep when I hear something moving inside the pillow! An insect? A tiny lizard? Something struggling to get out from the weight of my head for some reason. The thing is you get insects and ‘things’ in the strangest places here, and not impossible that, when the pillow was being filled maybe some cotton-habitat creature ended up in there. So I opened it up, scissors at the stitching at one end. Spread everything out on the floor. No insect, no small creature… maybe it scuttled away unnoticed, aha! freedom, didn’t see it, but I did find some leaves and a bit of a small branch. Well, getting that all cleaned out and stuffed back in again was not easy and there was quite a bit left over. Never mind, stitched it up again with needle and thread, Then the final fluffs of cotton removed and got it back into its pillow case, slightly slimmer and looser, slowly lowered my head on it and it was wonderful, even better than before. So good!

I’ve suggested to Jiab we open up all the hard pillows in my collection and take out some of stuffing but so-far she’s unconvinced…

a sense of sky

bodhgaya2OLD NOTEBOOKS: There’s a sense of sky, thoughts like clouds drifting through the vast space in the head… but I really don’t want to call it anything; giving things names gives them an identity and what happens next is, I become the ‘happy’ feeling. Feeling “happy” creates a ‘self’ where there wasn’t one before – “I” want to be happy, and don’t want to be ‘sad’, or unhappy. So maybe everything was okay before that ‘happy’ word arrived.

Something deeply understood by every human being in the world is the thought: ‘I am the only one that’s ‘me’, somehow ignoring the overwhelming fact that 7 billion people feel the same way. These days I’m returning to my old notebooks written when I was first discovering Buddhism, it’s this sudden PHN physical condition that’s throwing things all over the place and I need to remember how it all began. It really feels like the best thing to do is return the focus to that sense of sky, nothingness, no-thingness, and anatta, ‘no-self’, nobody at home…

How does it work? For me now, ‘no-self’ describes it well; it’s all just an operating system, same as Windows 10, Mac OS X El Capitain, and a determined and purposeful search to find out exactly where and how this ‘no-self’ exists will yield nothing, because “non self” doesn’t substantially exist – there isn’t any ‘thingness’ about non-self. No substance to it. In fact, ‘no-self’ is just another way of saying nothing substantially exists anywhere. There’s a wonderful fragility, a transparency about the world.

So the Buddha discovered this by way of his own research, 2500 years before Quantum physicists started to come up with empirical evidence that nothing substantially exists. Same thing in so many words. I started to investigate this further, because the question is, if there is no “self”, who or what “sees” there is no “self”? It’s an interesting direction the Dhamma takes that seems to hold my attention. I asked a monk about it in Thailand: ‘If everything without exception is “non self” including the “I” that’s investigating this, then who or what is there to see it’s non self… where does it all lead to? Without hesitation the monk just looked at me calmly and said “enlightenment.” That kinda stopped the conversation for a while …

The process of conceptualising is just a process – no person there doing it. just a process of how one thing is naturally linked to the next thing it’s most likely to link with, and that in turn linked to the next and it goes around like a wheel turning; the extreme point is suffering and unknowing (ignorance: the act of ignoring) and continues on from there following links that the Buddha showed us how to see. It can happen in a millisecond or in a slightly longer extended time… and that’s when we see it. There is a way out, of course, and that happens around steps 6,7 & 8 in the 12 step cycle. I’m not going to talk about that specifically here, check out the link below. So the main thing is all of these cycles, all these other behaviours that go on in life, have no ‘self’ in the background somehow pulling the strings. I find that remembering this helps me in dealing with pain; the pain is not happening to ‘me’ – there is no ‘me’ it’s happening to… just a series of processes. I allow it to pass, in the same way as ‘it’ is raining, wait for it to end… all things do.

“When Hanshan got up from his seat and walked around, he did not see things in motion. When he opened the window blind, suddenly a wind blew the trees in the yard, and the leaves flew all over the sky. However, he did not see any signs of motion. He understood what the text spoke of as, “Streams and rivers run into the ocean and yet there is no flowing.” [Han-shan Te-Ching (1546 – 1623)]

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Note: The source of the Han-Shan Te-Ching quote is the Mindfulbalance blog, post titled: Present in the midst of change. I’m grateful to the researcher for finding this wonderful group of words.
For the cycles of causality follow this link to t
he Buddha’s teaching on Dependent Origination (Paticcsammupada)