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]

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

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)]


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)

deities in the hall of mirrors

article-2378854-1B00FA8A000005DC-995_634x1281POSTCARD #156: Chiang Mai: I arrive in the hospital waiting area with the pain, this intrusive stabbing pain in the head and neck, postherpetic neuralgia, a permanent headache; sounds worse than it is – could be I’m getting used to it. There’s a flat screen TV and a coffee place, maybe I should order something? I have the iPhone to fiddle with, get busy with that… not interesting. Okay so try thinking about something else, but at this particular moment, there’s nothing else to think about – only the pain all around the right side of my head and neck. Think of something… thought itself is a free app I have the option to download on the mind/body device (namarupa) but even though I don’t have to download it, some of it seems to be here already, appears involuntarily. I hear the thoughts, the ‘voice’ inside the machine shouting out: Hey! the pain is happening to ‘me!’ It’s not happening to you, or them, or him, or her, it’s happening to me! The pain is ‘mine’, I am ‘possessed’ by it. Everything I love and hate, everything I love to hate – it belongs to ‘me’… it’s ‘my’ enemy!

With the pain swirling like a dense, dark cloud around my head and neck, I step carefully over to the TV that nobody is watching. There’s a remote, so I can flip through the channels and see where that gets me. Bend down to get the remote and the storm of pain happening to ‘me’ is there again, overwhelms everything, too much, for a moment I give way to it… and it’s then I notice there’s a space of somehow being detached from the pain, it’s something that’s not felt anymore, enough of an easing back from it to see the pain is an appearance, like everything else.

Sit down in front of the TV. Focus on the remote, press the buttons… so many channels. Some channels I recognise, then up into higher and higher numbers; places I’ve never been in before. Almost all of the channels are hazy or white-noise then I break through into a place that’s loud, clear and colourful. A Korean game-show, dubbed in Thai. It’s as if the storm of pain is all around but outside of this curious place – I’m safe in here. The scene unfolds, all the characters are lipsticked and painted with cosmetics like grotesque clowns, with amazing hair and impossible teeth, an embodiment of consciousness deeply obscured in layers of ‘self’. Man created God in his own image; a mirror reflection of the ego.

It’s a serious competition about trivialities; guests make appearances, have to tell anecdotes related to the question to gain points. They gaze at each other and see themselves as their own reflections; deities in the hall of mirrors – adults dressed to look like ‘cute’, children (kawaii), a real live dream-world; and the winning of the prize! Lights, colours music, the reward, congratulations, created laughter, spontaneous and heartening applause…

Just then, the nurse calls my name, I have to go and see the doctor. I get up from the chair slowly and take my pain away from the transparency of this kind of joyful TV state that’s doing its best to cultivate a desire for everything that is pleasing and a loathing dislike of everything that’s displeasing, perhaps unintentionally encouraging the hating of it, the not-wanting-it-to-be-there inverted craving, that contributes to the intensity of driving the economic machine… a kind of mental captivity; never seeing that the business of the actor is in the nature of appearances. The art of the illusionist, the politician…

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. [Robert Louis Stevenson]


Photo showing a product that creates a lower eyelid bulge. Source