wise discernment

If you find a good companion,

of integrity and wisdom,

you will overcome all dangers

in joyous and caring company

v.328

The mind, like water, takes on the shape of the vessel in which it is contained. The Teacher is encouraging us to be mindful of the company we keep. The Discourse on Great Blessings says, “Avoid the company of the foolish and associate yourself with the wise.” As we apply skilful discrimination, we need to exercise care that we don’t confuse prejudice with wise discernment. Wise discernment is compassionate and kind and is interested in protecting all beings from harm. [Dhammapada Reflections, Ajahn Munindo, p12]

This verse and commentary are meaningful to me because of having to place the word ‘discernment’ in the unusual setting of friends and friendship. In fact, discernment is a very Buddhist word. I think for a minute about the meaning of discernment and use that meaning of the word to investigate ‘discernment’ further; discerning on and on, deeper through the layers.

Wise discernment can also be applied to ongoing qualities of pain – my 24/7 headache caused by Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN) situated in the right occipital nerve. There are times when I know how to cope with it, and times when I don’t; and it’s here these words from the Buddhist realm reach me one way or another.

I’ve had it for 3 years and only recently able to shake off the depression;  I am the ‘headachee’ – the bell that is struck, the drum that beats. The neurologist got me round to seeing the sudden ‘spike’ headaches in terms of Severity, Frequency and Duration, units of measurement, instead of feeling sorry for myself; victimhood, a passive sufferer of constant headache. Now I keep notes, monitor the meds and put into words qualities of pain in my head… or is it discernment beyond words? Pursuing this to the end seems to make sense, besides there’s not much else that I can focus on these days.

At the end of last year, I was working with low doses of meds (Gabapentin,  Pregabalin and Norytriptaline ), in order to see the effects in a minimalist kind of self-research. Also to get stable after two years on a reckless maximum consumption drive, existing in a vague, pain-free haze every day. The following are some diary entries at the time [H: the headache]

  1. I learned so much from the pain now, anyone who’s gone through long term recovery from an injury will know what I’m saying about balancing the meds. My injury is very long term, a lifetime, plenty time to understand the process of recovery.
  2. The day I came to Outpatients for the appointment with ENT removing wax from the ears. After tolerating the pain and sound of the suction over and over and again, the self fragmented and got sucked away. What was left was empty space, no one to whom this was happening.
  3. However the terrible shrill noise had activated H; a massive steel grip tightening on the back of the skull bones. I couldn’t interrupt the doc as she had said I have to sit still. I was somehow transfixed. Suddenly there was this growling sound like an animal, and I was wondering where it was coming from. Then I realized it was me! The ENT Doc stopped the machine.
  4. I apologized for the animal noises and explained to the lady I have this massive headache every time she starts the machine. So she listened to me and we took a break then did another session that didn’t last long because of the involuntary growling again. The doc said it was enough, okay now, the eardrum was clear and that was that, end of the ENT sessions. I think she was glad to see me off.

 

 

beyond victory and defeat

Victory leads to hatred,

for the defeated suffer.

The peaceful live happily,

Beyond victory and defeat.

  1. v. 201

 

Those who live beyond victory and defeat are called ‘the peaceful’, but not because they are devoid of feelings. They are not ‘beyond’ because they have escaped the confidence trick of self. Self is like a rainbow. From a distance it appears real and substantial; as you get closer it appears less solid. If we hold too tightly to our sense of self, we get lost in views about what makes us happy. We believe that winning is all that matters, not seeing that in the process we cause suffering to others. If we hold too loosely to our sense of self we get lost, this time from a lack of boundaries, becoming overly sensitive and lacking in confidence. Self-respect and self-confidence are the natural consequences of a life lived with integrity and understanding. [Ajahn Munindo, Verse 201, A Dhammapada For Contemplation (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006]

There’s something about this one that takes me to a place where everything becomes clear. It’s like making space for it all so I can see what’s helpful and what’s not. I’m busy with treating my pain – a 24/7 headache situated in the right occipital nerve. There’s not much else that gets my attention these days.

The following are diary entries at the end of last year when I was working with low doses of meds (Gabapentin and Pregabalin), in order to see the differences and the qualities of each, if possible. Also to try to adjust from two years on a reckless maximum consumption drive, existing in a vague, pain-free haze every day. [H: the headache]

Self in itself is not anything of substance, but it activates all kinds of mind stuff, triggers all kinds of feelings of possessions; ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Basic instincts; catch, hold, kill, eat.

So, for me, it’s necessary to retract the claws that cling to things because it only makes the pain worse. It’s not ‘my’ pain, it’s just pain. Pain is pain no difference between your pain or mine. Pain is a non-countable noun; there is only one pain in the world, in the same way as there is water; there is only one body of water in the world.

Another thing, the negativity surrounding pain; I have pain, therefore I am a bad person. I must have done something bad to deserve this pain. That’s a ‘self’ concocted thing, let go of self and allow that to fall away

  1. One thing I’ve noticed about these pain meds is that they reduce the pain of course, but they also work on how the patient feels about the pain. There’s a distance between me and the pain. This is quite extraordinary sometimes when the pain feels like it’s here, but I can’t feel it because it’s behind a wall, or something. Or it’s in the next apartment, where a noisy party is going on… so I don’t have to pay attention to any of that any more.
  2. Sometimes it feels like a self takes shape and considers the situation… the pain is here but there’s no ‘me’ to whom it is directed. Self dissolves again. Another self comes into being with the question: To whom is this pain directed? “It is happening to me, myself!” Now I have full exposure to the pain! And I learn how to quickly let go of self when it’s not being helpful.
  3. Another self arises and says, “I’m going to suffer this Headache for the rest of my life!” So many times I’ve pondered this – how do I feel about this truth today? (compared with how I felt about it yesterday). Give it the attention it’s due then sidestep the awful self that wants to make a big thing out of it: “This is happening to me!” What are we going to do about it? And other unhelpful things.
  4. Next morning, wake up and no headache! At 9 am I take 900 mg Neurontin although there is still no headache, only small indications. It was like this all day.
  5. 1 pm, second dose of 900 mg Neurontin only small stabs of pain but not the huge deep stabs I’ve had in the past.
  6. 5pm: 900 mg Neurontin, so what’s going on here? I’m taking this medicine as a preventative measure? Let me think for a bit about this… how could it be? Anyway still no noticeable H and the day is over!
  7. Next day, H is back again but the pain not so bad, I’m able to get involved in small activities. Note: If I’m not able to forget the H, things become quickly unbearable, and I’m subject to the needs and requirements of the H. Things quickly get out of hand. This careless self-medicating takes up the whole afternoon, all in a dizzying spin. I’m grateful when 8pm comes around and the night meds send me off to sleep almost immediately.
  8. With these new meds, pain is masked off, forgotten about, for long periods of time… it’s like I forget about it. I forget also, other things I’d normally remember – is it this ‘forgetting’ that seals off pain from the mind? Is it the sense of ‘self’ that gets forgotten? There’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening?
  9. And for quite a long time, things in the room I’m in are so fluid there’s only the forms I meet from time to time, forming, transforming… quite extraordinary…

apperception & pain

A single day lived

with conscious intention and wisdom

is of greater value than a hundred years

lived devoid of discipline and manifest wisdom.

The best offering we can make to the Buddha is to live wisely. We all know the consequences of living in accordance with preferences: we feel divided, not whole. When conditions conspire to be agreeable we lose ourselves in the happiness we have gained; when conditions become disagreeable we despair over what we have lost. Wisdom ‘sees’ both gain and loss – wisdom sustains the awareness which makes us free. [Ajahn Munindo Verse 111 from ‘A Dhammapada for Contemplation’ (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006.]

I aspire to this, the state of mindfulness at whatever point in time and space – awareness of actions, body and mind throughout the day. As it is, I’m burdened with pain – oddly similar, the awareness of pain at whatever point in time and space.

The following are diary entries at the end of last year when I was working with low doses of meds (Neurontin and Lyrica), in order to see the differences and the qualities of each, if possible. Also to try to adjust from two years on maximum consumption ‘when conditions conspired to be agreeable’ and existing in a pain-free vague haze every day. [the H: the headache]

  1. What to do about this ‘steel’ headache… like a wide steel spike pushed into the head at the crown and it’s unmoving, taking all the focus and attention.
  2. Hours go by, turning over and over in bed. Trying different positions and sometimes falling into a partial sleep.
  3. Then in the course of the day, various doses of medicine effectively reduce the pain; or is it the attention the H demands… and I experience a lightbulb moment. It’s apperception and pain… [apperception: the introspective or reflective apprehension by the mind of its own inner states.]
  4. The rest of the afternoon and evening pain-free, where’d it go? Wow, there’s no such thing as pain? Not exactly. Apperception and pain – a new way of seeing the world. At the same time I’m aware the H is not here right now because it’s ‘somewhere else’. Lyrica is good at hiding the headache; no indication of pain at all.
  5. A fear of the H is hovering around… then it comes back during the night and early morning. I took the dose at 5am and the drive to the city went okay, the H was sufficiently out of the picture to not be a problem. All the way through these early morning hours and various events that took place the H was out of view. Around 9.30am that metallic pressure behind the ear on both sides of the head as if a large hand grip on the back of the head, thumb on one side and fingers holding these pressure points.
  6. Still it feels like the metallic grip could squeeze harder anytime. After the Lyrica dose, there’s no change; the H could start with or without the Lyrica dose. I feel like I should take another dose to make sure the H doesn’t get a hold. But I don’t take an extra dose, time goes on and I ‘forget’ about it. The Lyrica cushioning settles in and makes everything comfortable.
  7. The H is not causing any difficulties this morning, which leads me to think there’s something about how associated circumstances have an effect and the H is perceived as this or that, according to these associations. It may sound overly simple but there’s something more to this I can’t quite see yet. It becomes obvious, the medicine has an effect on how the patient ‘feels about’ the pain. Now we are out of the city in the Nontaburi house, no traffic. Suddenly here, there’s a feeling of space, room to move. We normally live in a small apartment downtown. The pain is intense there, but not in the empty house where we are now.

 to be continued

hold on and let go (2)

POSTCARD#332: Bangkok: Waking up from a dream on the outskirts of reality, strange doorways, crooked pathways seen in the flickering yellow of a street lamp, and there’s the headache that’s always with me. Recognition of this breaks through everything, as does a piercing shaft of light in a darkened room. I see the headache that hasn’t become anything yet, and allow it to ‘become’ without becoming it. A headache without a ‘self’, a subject without an object; this is not happening to me, there’s no ‘me’ to whom this headache is happening… I insist, refuse to be the headache-ee. It seems to me to make good sense then, that the normal holding-on to everything is not as important as the letting-go of it all.

Elbow props up the body, legs unfold and feet placed on the cold floor. Settle down, awareness of the in-breath/out-breath, and a curious feeling in the air; an atmosphere that’s suddenly different from what it usually is. The cool season, our tiny little winter, and in January, you may have a day when it’s necessary to wear a jacket.

Reach for the meds; two capsules and a gulp of water… everything swept away in speculation of what it might be, or could have been, in the stream of mental chatter, commentary blinkered, dysfunctional; endlessly recreating the world according to the mind’s perception of it, filtering out anything that doesn’t fit.

Supporting elbow removed and body falls back into the warm place where it was, legs follow, feet tucked in. No end, no beginning, leaving everything in the ‘now’, the continuous form of present tense – it never started so it cannot stop – it cannot leave because it never came [Mooji]. No past and no future except for the necessary getting-of-things-in-the-right-order in linear time.

Prompted in a certain way, Mind makes up the reason for things being the way they are; reasons for this, reasons for that, reasons why certain things are done according to some unwritten rule we comply with, and other things not done, as defined by Mind, but when looked for, are nowhere to be found. Dispersed, dissolved as soon as we of think it, and everything comes to a standstill… a sudden lack of things to think about, or an absence of things I think I should be thinking about. No words, no nothing, emptiness, vanishing trick, one two three, gone.

“…your real nature is not-knowing. It is a total absence of all that you think you are, which is all that you are not. In this total absence of what you are not, there is presence. But this presence is not yours. It is the presence of all living beings. You must not try to be open. You are open.” [Jean Klein]


Note: reflections on an earlier post. Art by Jill Lewis

mindfulness of pain

POSTCARD#331: Bangkok: I’m a Western migrant, living in the East for these last 30 years, and looking at my conditioning in the light of being inescapably part of the Eastern culture; all the ups and downs of life in Asia, and finding the way through in situations where language/behaviour are unfamiliar to the Western mind. Also the headache, from three years ago, learning how to live with that, requires an alertness, a sharp focus on how the pain gets stuck from time to time. There’s a built-in wake-up alarm that rings when this happens and every other time mindfulness is absent.

Being mindful of pain and the experience of suffering (dukkha) is necessary because there is the negativity surrounding pain, “Pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this!”… The locked-in reaction to criticize oneself for having the pain. Knowing there’s a difference between the pain itself and the act of resisting it.

I’m aware also of the attachment to wanting the pain to go away, “I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there!” Giving way to the energy generated by the craving, profoundly desiring it to ‘not-exist’. And knowing I’ll not find any peace in attempting to gratify that need, although I may persist in trying. Returning again to that confusion of thoughts and feelings; what to do? There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to notice how the pain arises when I try to get away from it. Better to be as calm as I can with the present moment and see how that goes.

There are many routes that take me to the awareness that it’s only in that no-choice situation… there, that a tiny moment of ease is felt, and I discover how it turns around; things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it. I need to be reminded the problem is not the pain; the problem is the concept of ‘me’ coping with the pain.

One of the first things I understood about the Buddha’s teaching is that the mind is not self. Mind is a sensory organ like the other five – mind is the sixth sense – everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think. The mind sense leads to a consciousness of how everything is coming in from the outer world through sensory experience and that default to the sense of self: hey, this must be happening to ‘me’. But the basic truth is that there’s no substantial ‘me’.

These wonderful smallest of smallest instants of mindfulness… the pain disappears for a moment and immediately the question arises, “How did it do that?” The answer comes in a different voice, “The mind sense can bypass the pain, so that the pain is not happening to anyone – there’s no ‘me’ engaging with the pain.” Instead there’s an awareness of the vast space of no thought and no attachment, abiding there, in a state of mindfulness and careful receptivity, a ‘looking’ to see what it could be, and what it couldn’t possibly be. There’s a kind of alertness about the sensory function, and the simple curiosity, “What is it doing now? Just being open to what this could be, is enough to understand how it works…

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” [Mother Teresa]


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