Aloneness

Switzerland: No news from Jiab in Cambodia. People call me up looking for her and I tell them: Sorry, Jiab is not here right now, she’s coming back in a few days. I’m like a recorded message. This is how it is with us; Jiab is the star of the show, I’m the supporting act. Tried calling her one night last week – 6.45am in Phnom Penh, Hotel Intercontinental, room 710: ‘Just one moment please…’ and the receptionist connects me to her room; I can hear the phone ringing. Then a very sleepy voice says, quite loudly, ‘Thank you!’ and puts the phone down! Disconnected and I’m 6000 miles away again. Try again; key in this very long number and wait. Explain to the receptionist, she connects me, and same thing happens: ’Thank you!’ and puts the phone down. This time the receptionist put me on hold and, I imagine, explains that this isn’t a wake-up call, it’s an overseas call. Eventually I get through and Jiab is so totally and profoundly asleep, the conversation had to be abandoned. I guess I called too early.

Truth is, I’m in a state of aloneness here. The Worldly Winds are blowing hard and strong. In the post office sits a lady behind the glass window with her painted smile of resignation because obviously the answer is ‘no’ even though the question hasn’t been asked yet. And even when I manage to engage her in a dialogue, there’s that clear signal that if we’re going to talk, let it be known she is somebody who doesn’t listen to people – asks me a question and eyes glaze over as I give her the answer; not listening because she’s busy with the next question. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

After I get back to the apartment it feels like I’ve been wounded in battle; discomfort likely to break out into fully fledged distress any minute. I manage to do a sidestep before it locks into place. I wrote a post about this: Skillful Avoidance; if you can sidestep the clinging tendency, the ’velcro’ of self cannot attach and in its place there’s a feeling of relief, wow! how good is that! This feeling moves it all forward in a wholesome direction. These small successes are necessary here in a non-Buddhist country where people are careless about what they say at the best of times.

I’ve lived in Thailand for more than 20 years and I’m used to being in a Buddhist society where, on a very ordinary level, people are generally courteous; they smile, they’re pleasant and try to be helpful. You can see monks everywhere and there’s the atmosphere of mindfulness. When I’m in Europe, I have to take extra care in relating to others and it does get to be difficult. But that’s the way it is, and I have the opportunity to watch my reactions here whereas in Thailand I don’t have to do that. But anyway, when Jiab is with me I can get things more in perspective – and she’s not here….

I’m part of it but not ‘in’ it and can see what’s going on; insulated against the fierceness of it. I get into the apartment at the end of the day, door is closed and it’s all gone. My files, books and notes about the Buddha’s teaching are here. All my friends in the world seen through the window of computer screen are practicing Buddhists and I have a small correspondence with Buddhist monks. If the doorbell rings, I take a deep breath because it’s not impossible the flames of unrest will come leaping into my quiet space and what I’ve noticed is that it’s an all-inclusive situation; my reactions, my aversion to it, all become part of the ‘me’ thing.

The fact that I dislike it exacerbates the problem – then I heard Ajahn A. saying something wise about it’s the energy we use in being averse that creates the obstacle, not the ‘obstacle’ itself. The energy accumulates and the tendency is for it to come into ‘being’. All the usual suspects are there; the same old familiar stories unfolding. I can see the accumulated energy; simply that and nothing more. I don’t need to love it, don’t need to hate it, don’t need to hold on to it: ‘Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya’. Nothing whatsoever should be clung to. There’s a separation from all ‘likes’ and dislikes’; a pleasant feeling of aloneness and wishing people well.

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The Eight Worldly Winds, Ratanagiri Newsletter [Link to: Hilltop]

Photo: Louk Vreeswijk