doerless doing part 6b, editor’s notes

POSTCARD#378: Bangkok: This is the last part in the series of posts created from source material in “Heartwood from the Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It is a conclusion of sorts, although how this slim volume came to be with me and the events that go with it, is worthy of including.

I found the book again after 20 years of it being lost in a deep cupboard. Such a precious thing to have it leap into my hands again as if by magic. Maybe it got picked up along with the Nokia Phone Manual (that’s how long ago it was!) and got lost in the cupboard for two decades. Finding the book came with all the memories of how things were then, discovering Buddhism for the first time – although there was something déjà vu about it – and how it opened up an understanding in my world that had never happened before.

I arrived in Thailand in 1984 after 2 years in South India. I know I was reading something referenced to the Upanishads at the time and it had a big impact on me… but I can’t remember much more. I do remember ‘What The Buddha Taught’ by Walpole Rahula and it was in reading this that I decided (perhaps wrongly) the turn-around point was at tanha (craving)

All of it was triggered as a result of visits to Wat Pah Nanachat in the north of Thailand and Wat Suan Moke in the South, where I came upon Ajahn Buddhadasa’s book for the first time. Gratitude to the monks I met in these two Wats who helped me understand the subject in more detail.

Today, I have to admit that I can’t seem to bring grasping and clinging to a close at phassa (contact), or vedana (feeling), despite Gratitude and Respect for Ajahn Buddhadasa’s insistence that there is nothing worth having or being in this or any world. Feelings of like or dislike arise and the various kinds of desire that spring from the urges of tanha (craving) are with me until my escape route begins – just before upadana (clinging) sets in.

Another thing I need to say is the constant headache caused by PHN in the Right Occipital Nerve, that’s hindered me these last 5 years. Perception altered due to the struggle with pain and pain meds which always seem to be ‘more than enough’. I become lost in conditions where I’m in the midst of ‘being’; or I stumble and fall over objects that I currently ‘possess’. But I’ve learned how to let go when signs of suffering (dhukka) are arising – last minute relinquishments. The following paragraph illustrating the turn-around point in cognition at tanha (craving), found unpublished in some old notes I’m including here:

“Idleness, sort of a wide-awake sleepwalking around this empty house. Soon, I find myself in the kitchen, pause at the refrigerator, open the door, look inside. Well, let’s see, is there anything in here? Or better to say, is there something in here I can put in my mouth that’ll satisfy the craving? It has to be the right thing, looking for that which is exactly the right one, this craving is for something sweet but there’s nothing here at all that’s sweet, only cheese. So I grab the cheese, cut a large piece off and chew on that, have the flavor of cheese in my mouth for the next half hour. It’s not what I wanted. Now I’m craving for sweet things with the taste of cheese getting in the way.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of being situated in that ‘place’ of mindfulness in the here-and-now and that’s enough, observing how there are things that’ll displace, me; powerful emotions, a short flash of like or dislike. These mind states are ‘seen’ same as everything else, momentary, and let-go-of more or less immediately and stability returns.

If not, I lose my ‘place’ for a while and then before I get back on track, there’s that experience of being totally lost for a while. Then I get situated in the here-and-now again, focusing on where I lost the place. Suddenly I re-cognize something and see that I must be functioning in that remembered way, then firmly situated again. Okay, so the mind may fall into a fixation with a passing thought, but at least I know that’s where it’s been.

These days I’m thinking I need to move on from these old reference points in my old comfortable way of understanding the world. That is, if you can see where you are and are aware of suffering caused by tanha (the craving for things you love and hate), then that’s all there is to it. You see it, you know it. Avidya (ignorance) is swept aside, no matter how much these established views may be held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, because suffering will pass away of its own accord:

“Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” “Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata has told. And also their cessation — Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.” [Venerable Assaji answers the question of Śāriputra the Wanderer]

I need to explore Sunyata “Emptiness” which Ajahn Buddhadasa examines in the second section of the book, where we see the truth that emptiness is the remainderless extinction of self. ‘The ‘remainderless extinction of ‘self’ is the non-arising of ‘self’’. In the long term I can see a situation whereby we prevent the arising of ‘self’ completely so that it has no way of arising at any moment in the here and now, nor at any time in the future.


Photo source: Dewdrop

meditation and a dentist’s drill

POSTCARD#368: Bangkok: Practically no traffic in Bangkok on my first day out – clear blue sky because there’s no pollution. I’m going to the dentist, and fortunate that I’m able to share in a car with two other friends and a driver, all of us wearing face masks, venturing out for the day. Wonderful to be back in the outside world and I send best wishes to blogging friends in the UK and US, who are stepping out today, as the car seems to leap across empty Thai highways.

Almost nothing of my UK ‘self’ remains. I have a sister, the other chick in the nest. Also gratitude to our cousin who tries to keep the strands of family together. The others… all gone in the passing years, and all that I’m inclined towards is in my Thai family and the monks I’ve spent time with – Theravada Buddhism Ajahn Chah lineage.

Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away for a meditational moment; just the in-breath, the out-breath, but I can’t continue because thoughts of the dentist come crashing into mind. You may be surprised to know however that she’s a very good-looking lady, dazzlingly perfect teeth to smile by, and this makes the pain easier to bear. Also, I have to say they are generous with the Lidocain needle there, I haven’t experienced any pain after the needle goes in during the many extended restructure sessions I’ve had in the chair. Maybe also the meds I take for headaches combine with the dental painkillers and these contribute to a painless experience.

So I get to the building, up in the elevator and check in with the receptionist. Sit for a while in an empty waiting area, thinking of my old dentist in Switzerland, 18 years ago, who told me about stress and depression among dentists, and he did have a few personality quirks. I googled the subject and found the suicide rate of dentists is more than twice the rate of the general population. September 1, 2007 Randy Lang. DDS, D.Ortho

Then I’m escorted to the dentist’s room. Undo my mask as I enter and “Hello, how are you”, greeting also the dentist’s assistant, who seems less beautiful but happy enough with the way things are.

The Dentist is absolutely stunning, dressed in her PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) she has a mask and a face guard with shower cap covering her hair. Movie-star painted eyes, but it’s the whole body covering that gets my attention; it’s clear smooth plastic, not wrinkled as we see in the busy COVID-19 wards, and… it looks like it’s been made to measure?

Beneath that is a tight fitting white plastic suit with a black belt and she’s wearing white high-heeled shoes – very high, with slender heels. A vision of dental loveliness… she sees me watching and does a little-girl twirl, I think: should I say “cute” or otherwise remark on her costume. But I can only smile and that’s convincing enough because I am genuinely surprised.

Are there any traces of a personality disorder here, I wonder, remembering the google texts about Stress in Dentists:

“When performing dental procedures that evoke patient fear and anxiety, dentists experience patterns of physiological stress responses that parallel the patient’s responses.”

Seems to me it would be hard not to, being so close, head to head with a reluctant and disinclined patient.

Another factor is people just don’t like going to the dentist, evidenced by the frequency of missed appointments. Nobody wants to visit the dentist and it’s the last place they want to come back to.

In my case it’s different, I’m in a mesmerized state. We continue with the opening pleasantries, as I sit down in the fearful chair which sinks to a lower level that raises my feet slightly higher than my head – it seems very comfortable to me and I tell the dentist this, thinking I have to be nice to this lady who may have a personality disorder, and she’s hiding a razor sharp drill somewhere which is going into my mouth – no escape now.

Her assistant covers my upper body with these heavy green hospital linen covers and puts one over my whole head that has a round hole in the centre. I found it disarming and claustrophobic the first time but I’m used to it now. She adjusts the position of the hole and does an examination of my mouth, indicates that it’s all good, and starts numerous injections to block off an entire area on the right side

After that, I’m raised up to the normal sitting position, while we wait for the Lidocain to numb the jaw. I take the conversation further by asking how long she’s had a dentist practice here in this location. She tells me it’s been 11 years and likes the process very much. Then she says: “I was in the US for five years”. I understand her to mean she studied there and prefers the American way of operating a dental practice, therefore the Thai way seems really old fashioned to her. I think she thinks I’m American and therefore I should respond in a welcoming, member-of-the-family, ‘warm hug’, in a manner of speaking but I don’t know how to do that, coming from Scotland as I do, ancient and remote. Even though I feel like I should have been able to respond better than I did.

Sometime later in the sequence of time we were talking about something else I can’t remember exactly and “I was in the US for five years”, she says, unaware that it’s the second time she’s said this. Is she, a Thai person, so deeply acculturated in all things American, she has to tell me about it? It was difficult to see how this could be, having lived in Thailand for 35 years with its ups and downs – 5 years seems like such a short time to me.

I wasn’t able to figure out how best to deal with this. A big smile will suffice – anyway it was time to get down to business and she sends my chair back into that devastating lower position, it seemed to me now, where the drilling begins.

No choice, settle into a space in my being, and try to accept these fierce sounds. The dentist’s drill is a fearsome thing as we all know. it can change from high speed: tee-ee tee-ee to low speed: bhrrr-bhrr bhrr-bhrr and variations on that: bhaaa-bhee, chugga chagga, daaa dit daaa dit daaa!

The dentist’s assistant takes charge of all the sucking devices she holds in place in a way that obstructs the movement of the tongue and drains the blood or liquid or water from another device crammed into place leaving enough space for the Hollywood dentist to do her drilling.

Everything to do with my mouth is seen through the round hole, I’m aware of some movements in the darkness. An overwhelming experience if you’re not used to it, now trying to embrace these intense sounds as my jaw is being carved into a new shape. There’s a natural tendency to escape from the body. Then the attempt at meditation starts.

The sound and vibration is hostile and shocking and pulls my attention back into what is immediately present, I can’t find a balance at first… I feel confident enough about the painkillers, about how effective the headache meds are, but the vibration is traveling through every bone in my body. It’s possible for the first time in my life to ‘see’, to be aware of my skull and skeleton. Maybe I can be confident about the full extent and the limitations of the experience; the drilling sounds, the pushing and tugging. I know this and I know Consciousness is vast. This realization just tumbles out. For a few moments the drilling sound and scale or scope of the issue becomes smaller and smaller, less and less important.

After that I’m able to find a place up and above my head and focus on staying there, as all the unexpected jabs, jerks and vibrations shake my whole body. The dentist’s assistant pulling on one side of my mouth and the dentist shoving and tugging the other side. My awareness has to include having to deal with the gag reflex and involuntary swallowing – all this can be going on because there’s enough awareness to go around. I can stay in this space up and above, and contemplate the experience as if I were in a barrel being tumbled down a rocky hill road, and other images.

The chair is moved up and the drilling is over, now to take an impression. Liquid rubber material is spread inside both upper and lower jaws. I clench my teeth together and have to hold it for 3 minutes. This provides me with a sudden quiet time… up and above in the space where I was meditating, there’s a golden glow. If I focus on it, the glow expands; it’s unintentional and spontaneous. The golden glow is sending out warmth and happiness, an entirely unintended action spreading outwards and everywhere.

Sadly it’s interrupted by the dentist, green covers removed, moving along now. Put the mask on, fix the next appointment, and it’s time to say Bye-Bye.

Down from the 6th floor and the driver is at the car-park level getting a stamp on his entry ticket. We pick up our two other passengers and out over the deserted highways again. I feel liberated and glad the next dental appointment is not for a month and the remains of the golden glow is with me.


The Thai Government reported three new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Sunday, May 10, 2020 with a total of 2,969 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths since the outbreak began in January

COVID-19 Vesak Day 2020

POSTCARD#367: Bangkok: Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, a forgetfulness of holding on to things… an easing away, then it all falls backwards into space. It’s the best part of the day for me; that smooth slide into sleep. I take a mix of Norytriptiline and Remeron in very small amounts. It works like a sleeping pill, but is in fact a pain killer. The sleep aspect of the drugs is so good, I sometimes wake in the morning and the body is in the same position it was in, the night before – practically no movement during the night.

The rest of the 24 hour period is not so peaceful, a headache and dry mouth, like a hangover when I wake in the morning, of course not caused by alcohol because it is dangerous to take that with the other drugs on the menu. So, I do a set of simple asanas on the yoga mat next to the bed. Then the shower and things start to clear up with the first dose of the main drug after breakfast. There are times when the meds put the headache away completely for most of the day, and that’s good except for the cloudy brain, things not being clear. Other times the meds put it away only for an hour or so…. sometimes the meds don’t seem to work at all and the uncertainty of this is a huge challenge.

An example of contemplating physical pain with Wise Reflection is the Buddha – remembered today, May 6, 2020, Vesak Day. [click on the link for more info] The Buddha would have looked long and hard at his pain condition, as I do now after 5 years of the headache. It interests me and makes me happy to have this small insight into the Buddha’s pain. The same for all friends here in the blogging world who suffer permanent pain, orthopedic or neurological or both.

I listened to the Vesak Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Kalyano. Ajahn talked about the years the Buddha studied ascetic practices (self-induced pain), his body was skin and bone and eventually he abandoned this practice because the center of focus was now on the Kilesas (Defilements), Greed, Hatred, and Delusion (sounds like a heavy metal band). These three Kilesas can be sourced, analyzed and contemplated with Wise Reflection today.

Ajahn also said that it may be helpful to think of all the many and various aspects of the Kilesas as a virus embedded in the body and Mind – a suggestion that Covid-19 may be contemplated in this way. Lastly, Ajahn referred to the BBC 70s video of an interview with the King of Thailand Bhumibol Rama 9 who passed away October 13, 2016 – not so long ago. The interviewer asked if the King believed in Original Sin. The King replied no, he believed in Original Purity. Ajahn Kalyano said this was an insightful reference to the practice of contemplation of the Kilesas.

The past never gets old, always brought into present time, revealed again as an event remembered, with characters acting out the part as we recall it. It can be steps we take to be free of the old conditioning. It can be a memory or an image held in the mind refreshed over and over that gives us support in some way. An image of the Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, or others…

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisattva, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, par101, Before):

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,—that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,—that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,—that is the escape therefrom.


Photo: Great Buddha Statue Bodh Gaya

 

the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease 2019 has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

Every day counting the dead, an on-going catastrophe, the mind is fundamentally changed after the disaster experience, it has a psychological impact. Or it may be spiritual, or transformational, subject to who the actors and activists are, the realities, the karma of circumstances.

The Thai Government announcement on COVID-19, 22 April 2020:

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

The stay-at-home order is now in its fourth week, and how are we coping with our ‘stay-at-home-ness’? My wife, Jiab, is usually busy with Skype while I am hidden upstairs watching CNN. “This is CNN bringing you Breaking News”, volume fills the room. It is informative and kinda gripping if you’re lying in repose managing a headache. Sometimes I mute the volume and watch the facial gestures.

There’s a bathroom and a bed here, a large air-con room and comfortable armchairs. This is still the hot season, slatted blinds keep out the direct sunlight, makes it easier to see the TV screen. I also watch CSI and CSI Miami with Horatio forever posing with his small sunglasses. FBI Most Wanted, Blue Bloods and others. Stepping into the hypnosis of the general public: dialogue woven around a few good looking actors, studies in portraiture… I swoon with the posturing.

Aside from the enthralled watching, I do a little yoga and meditation, and go down to eat and wash the dishes three times a day. Jiab does the cooking or orders delivery. There’s also time spent writing posts, say 2 days per week – I’m not as dynamic as I used to be.

The headache comes and goes, never completely gone. It’s been five years, we’ve gone through a lot together, the headache and me. Remembering now there was a time when I didn’t have the headache, mourning the loss of the pain-free state I possessed in that other world from whence I came… all of it irretrievably gone from memory. Strong, angry emotions – red light, phone alarm rings, stop thinking. Return to watching the breath… the utter functioning of being alive. Watch TV, just dismayed – how could it be like this?

My headache, or the coronavirus is the imponderable. Our world is good but there’s always something that’s not right. Incompleteness, and the Buddhists say it’s this, the discovery of dissatisfaction, Suffering, Dukkha, the first Noble Truth. Years ago I was so glad to discover this because I was lost in it and at the best of times, wondering what that bad feeling was. There is Suffering, caused by Desire but there is a Way out, found in the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 Noble Truths)

Everything comes crashing in. The inevitability of events and present moment awareness. If I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated as I do to look everywhere for the way out of this suffering, and thus begin to uncover the mystery.

If I’m having difficulty with my headache, and I’m trying to avoid it, the presence of it, the acceptance, it helps to think of it as another self; the headache is a person, a friend – I feel there are two of us.

Interested in the well-being of this other self, I say to my headache self:

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

When it’s time, three capsules of pharmaceutical forget-me-nots swallowed with a gulp of bottled water and in a short while, the intensity of the headache has moved away from consciousness – a long sigh of outbreath.

Last thing is: why am I doing this, writing these posts? There’s a lot to say and I’ve learned so many things from such a lot of good, kind, and wise people that I feel I have to share it with everyone.

May all beings be well.

 

 

to let there be no resistance at all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

this and then that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

addendum

POSTCARD#352: Bangkok: This is the addendum. Additional material not included in the previous post will appear here. Some have said that the last post ended inconclusively, leaving more questions than answers,

So let’s rethink that, shall we?

Keep it simple.

You could associate the jolt of electric charge with all kinds of things, but the patient (me) had suffered a small stroke. Nobody I know knows what a small stroke means, the scale of it. A sudden bolt of energy in the chest sounds like that could be it.

My wife Jiab calls out as I’m carrying bags to the car… “Hey you can walk so well now, congratulations!”… and I can’t remember the context of what she is talking about. For the first time I begin to see the larger reality of being elderly and disabled; then the reality of my condition before all this came, unlikely to go away or become something else.

Post Herpetic Neuralgia – certain light and sound frequencies that are acceptable for most people but intolerable for me.

So when we decided to take the show on the road, so to speak, there were a few precautions; we had the tint colour of the car windows darkened quite a bit. Now it’s like a car wearing sunglasses, very cool and relaxing. For stepping out of the car, we were less prepared. I expected it to be a bit of a shock with all the arbitrary light frequencies entering through the eye and shrill sounds enter through the ear. But not the scale of the headache and the circumstances of its arrival. We have to accept these realities in our effort to slowly create a practical defense system against the invasion of light and sound, and the internal systems that are activated as best we can.

We broke the journey at Samut Sakarn after 4 hours hard driving. It had not been easy with all these road construction obstacles. Park the car get your things and suddenly, I’m out there, exposed in high resolution Photoshop enhancement. I’m really a nocturnal owl-like creature, sheltering behind a black umbrella, squinting in the daylight; a quiet presence behind sunglasses contemplating vibhava tanha, (Buddhist term for the desire to not exist)… I really don’t want to be here.

I feel Jiab’s small hand take mine and pull me towards the small Inthanin.com coffee shop in a wooden shack with window and overhang roof. Up the step and fold away the umbrella. Then into this dark environment with noisy AC, roaring ice crushing machine and suddenly I have to block out the sound by covering my ears with hand towels. People watching us come in must have been puzzled by what was going on. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Jiab’s hand appears with an iced drink. It’s a smoothie but no ordinary smoothie. This was the first time I’d experienced the mango passion fruit smoothie. To start with, I made the same mistake I’d been making that nearly turned me off of smoothies; I opened the mouth and throat completely to take in a huge volume of the ice-cold liquid. After a moment the liquid begins to move down the gastrointestinal tract and here the headache is constant steady and intense.

No escape, no reversals, there’s just no getting away from it. I’m holding on also because of traces of the mango passion fruit flavor I can release into the pain arena as the drama of the event subsides. For quite a long time I’m hovering through pain and pleasure, long after the source of the ice-cream headache is gone. Then I’m in a smoothie heaven – all this of course with eyes closed, a small towel over the front of my head, gradually coming back into the world people normally inhabit.

This is how it happened, you could say this was episode three on the way to the beach at Hua Hin… or maybe that’s all done now.

on the way to the beach at Hua Hin

Episode1

It was thought to be a special break for me after the fasting and then the anesthetic was over and the results of the MRI scan were given the next morning: I had no brain tumors, no signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other danger signs. You will have guessed that I’m one of those who suffer claustrophobia if I’m in an enclosed space only inches from my face. So I managed the MRI scan with an anesthetist on hand monitoring levels while I was out of the picture having been given a general anesthetic. So I woke in the recovery room with a bottle of drinking water and happy because I knew it was over. The MRI scan is that thing that takes photos of your brain every 5 mm, you could say it looks like slices of meat from the butchers shop 5 mm thick which you can examine in detail.

The next day dawned and the news was ok, no life-threatening conditions, but there was a little black spot, on the right side of the brain – think of Google Earth and one of these small islands you can zoom in on and see all the mountains and rivers and forests… but it wasn’t as clear as that unfortunately the resolution wasn’t that good.

The question is, what is it? What caused the spot? And the answer is, it was the marks left behind when the patient has suffered a small stroke … a small stroke, quite common they say, among elderly patients – and there was I thinking I might be a special case or something.

It was quite likely I had lost my balance around that point in time. And I can fix that within a month or two because Jiab told me when she noticed the difference in my walking gait… it was say, November December 2018 just after the fall in Ch’mai, click ‘the big bang’ for the link

Episode 2

One day before the departure car to the beach at Hua Hin, and not connected with the MRI scan, a relative from the South I hardly ever see came to visit; in-laws from that part of the community, some would say ‘rural’, others say ‘remote’. Like Jiab’s own father, passed away many years ago, reaching back into the past where money was not exchanged for goods and services. Farm produce has its own value, also herbs, wild plants with medicinal properties. What is owed is given and taken according to the size, or lineage of the debt. Their loyalties do not include anything we (in the ordinary world) would immediately recognize, so there’s a tendency to leave it at that and it all gets soon forgotten about.

That’s why I never followed it up, you know, just because it was kinda interesting and the only time I’d ever hear about this side of the family was/is when someone comes to Bangkok, like this, for something to do with Government papers, or land documents. And this was the reason for the visit; spend the night at the house leave early morning to do the business and catch the afternoon train down South again.

But it was all done too fast! I was told about P coming about 10 minutes before she arrived, no time to think… then I remembered her mum had passed away recently and maybe I should offer some words of condolences or something but what to say?

I heard her voice downstairs and was thinking I should go down but just then a shadow flickered past my open door. It was the lady we shall call P, putting travelling bag away in the rooms next to me where she was for the night. “Ah hello P, “ I said, and she respectfully greeted me as they all do these days, me with the white hair, beard of the elderly and nearness to death.

“I was sorry to hear about your mum Khun Meh…” and P moved to acknowledge the reference, or whatever it is that they hold so dear, and it was to do with this mystery because, just then, something quite strange happened. A bolt of energy hit me in the chest and I wondered if P felt it too? I saw her crouch over and fall back away from me.

But who’s to say, it was all in shadow, we couldn’t see clearly and all I felt was the awkwardness of being found in a place I shouldn’t be. We went downstairs together, Jiab poured us some sweet drinks at the table and bit by bit the feeling disappeared. The lady P gave me a small book about her mother’s life printed simply and given to everyone who was at the funeral.

That’s it, it was done. So I left them talking together and went upstairs, preoccupied with: “Who is this person I hardly know and what are these goings-on?” Later on I spoke to Jiab and she played down the drama of events, while at the same time, conceding that all and everything was as it was and accepting that it happened as I’d described it.

All I can think is that I hardly knew her and her mother even less. I wasn’t expected in that context and this electric charge clicked the door closed.

Fine with me, no problem, my fault, I shouldn’t have started something I couldn’t finish. I’d like it all to go away now because maybe it was the other way round; the electric charge was something that pulled me rather than pushed me away. I’m definitely not inclined to like this idea, and would be glad if the whole thing could get or got or have got or had gotten itself forgotten about…

“Fear of death is ridiculous, because as long as you are not dead you are alive, and when you are dead there is nothing more to worry about!”

[Paramahansa Yogananda]


 

the imaginary middle step

POSTCARD#350: Bangkok: Note: I started to write this post on 6th July because it was my birthday. Pretty soon it came to be too much of a revelatory thing to suit a simple chorus of Happy Birthday To You, but this is how it is, we live in strange times.

Seems to me, that Mind makes up a reason for things being the way they are, arbitrarily. It just comes out of nowhere. The mysterious and slightly sinister thing about this is that I (self) allowed it to get to be this way, knowing fully it would lead to lamentation, woe and bad destinations.

I remember it was at the time I started writing things down on scraps of paper because of the hellish stabbing headaches I’d get when typing text on a digital device and the infernal twinkle of blasted light frequencies going off like a flash of lightning in an electric storm… a deep stab in the eye, exactly in the optic nerve. No warning. And that whole thing against a backdrop of a 24 hour managed ‘headache’ held together with a tight regime of powerful meds dealing with neuropathic pain.

So I went back to writing on ordinary paper with dull pencil. I had to learn to write properly after decades of scribbling reference numbers and OTP, one time passwords and that’s all. Then, as the non-digital me, keying it all in with plain black text on a white background, and up into WordPress formatting then hit Publish… but more about that some other time.

What I’m trying to write about here has to do with the arbitrary decision to take a particular action, regardless of the obvious danger that may result. It all went wrong when I found one of these scraps of paper and on it was written something like, say less than one sentence; a note to self.

“the standard walking pattern suggests another step between left and right… left foot (step) right foot.”

Like a magic formula, as soon as I read it I remembered, the image of the middle step. Walking was more like a bumpy three-legged rolling unicycle wheel. Reckless is not the word – wildly irresponsible, when you think of Bangkok traffic going at maximum speed just inches away from the pedestrian zone. We are all expected to take responsibility whether driving car, truck, motorbike or walking, and that’s just the way it works.

Somehow I bypassed these cautionary warning signs and set out to boldly go and try my balance all over the place, while learning how to best cope with this new middle leg I’d integrated. Then there were these spectacular falls in public places. Spectacular because I’d more or less worked out a recovery that included the same ‘middle step’. Note to self: This recovery was imaginary although nearly always there was a reasonable recovery. So it all seemed like a dance, no serious injury at all… then there was the ‘big one’ and that brought everything to a standstill.

For nearly a year I forgot completely about the middle step, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to walk properly. It was that middle step that was causing balance problems and at the time I had no idea. The only safe place for me to walk was on the grass at public parks or airports where there is space all around. But I was bumping into people, besides it was not a ‘walk’ as we normally perceive ‘walking’. This was more like an imaginary Fred Astaire dance with the furniture than an attempt at walking. So someone suggested I get a wheelchair at airports and walk with a companion in ordinary environments.

Jiab says there is such a thing as occupational therapy where perhaps I can relearn those missing skills, so I will look into that. The biggest mystery is ‘the imaginary middle step’ and I’m referring to it now as something known, concrete, impossible. If I approach it obliquely I’m likely to wander off and fall in front of the traffic. Since finding that scrap of paper I notice anything to do with walking triggers the imaginary middle step.

 

the calm meditator’s endeavor

POSTCARD#348: Bangkok: It’s been many months since I was an active meditator. The headache 24/7 pushed that out of reach. But I’m looking into ways of finding a direction into meditation from my memory of it. Thoughts return of course but I still have the calm meditator’s endeavor to escape from this prison realm to the extended spaces of meditation, and maybe I’ve found the way out.

No need to get rid of the thinking mind, just be aware of it; all the garbage about Donald Trump in YouTube videos, copies of segments from CNN and MSNBC. This has been a habitual thing for me – I’m sorry to say – but something tells me I’m not the only one. The news is, I’ve more or less found a way to say goodbye to this. Begin by stopping the videos in arbitrary places for long enough to forget the sequence of events, the story of it and the mind slips away into the silence.

This is Insight meditation, not necessarily Buddhist meditation you don’t have to be a Buddhist to do it. The intention is to gain insight. Follow the breathing and observe these long stretches of silence, thoughts return of course but I’m not going to prevent that from happening. The thinking mind goes on tumbling and falling, like dice showing the numbers that result. Then it changes to something totally different… let it! All I need to do is be aware that it’s there.

So I’ll continue with the ‘voice’ of the uninstructed meditator looking into the experience of self-hood running parallel to the ongoing description of events,

Who am I? Am I my thoughts, contained in here, in this body? Everything is happening ‘here’ – this ‘here-ness’ surrounds me everywhere I go. Out there is the rest of the world – but where does the ‘out there’ begin? Where does my here-ness end? Where’s the edge of it? An innate knowledge tells me I am more than the here-ness that surrounds me, I am all of it!

Too much to take on board right now…. a tornado of orderly chaos beyond my comprehension. I can’t get far enough back to see how the pattern is structured. I prefer to separate things, bit by bit and the familiarity of the thinking thing helps me to do that.

All that is required is I need to be aware of the content of thoughts and beware of the wayward thinking mind; the joys and sorrows. It’s been said so many times, watch out for the pitfalls, and the ground beneath my feet giving way to that whole nother thing.

And that could easily be the trump phenomenon, donalding around doing his thing in our collective consciousness, a toxic environment. It’s the things we love to hate. Tugged here and there, a captive audience. Living in constant anticipation of his next move; how he seems emboldened by some small event we thought would be the end of him but somehow it seems it has given him a little bit of political wiggle room.

Everything about the thinking mind rejects the image. I don’t want it to be like this! the only reason it has remained like this is a kind of habitual adherence to that unruly group of harmful thoughts. Use the thinking mind to be the gatekeeper. Clear out the thoughts, let them go – it’s been said so many times, switch off the TV, the devices, get unplugged. Disconnect… lose the signal, who cares?

So where are the edges that separate me from everything else out there? Is it the surface of my skin… does it end here? Is this the extent of myself? But on that nano-scale, the pores of the skin, a fluidity of stuff hurtling right through us, in and out, all the time. There’s electrons and neutrinos that are constantly zinging through us and everything else… how can it be?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72YbK9quS_c

Inspired by a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sucitto