the unbroken whole

POSTCARD#402: Bangkok: I see the world by way of a built-in filter process which selects the sensory data that’s compatible with my operating system. Everything I receive from the ‘outside’ world fits with the default state of mind. The problem is the operating system is set to delete anything that doesn’t agree with the world I have come to know, and I lose things of value every day. There is only this ever-present stream of mental chatter that fills up every empty space and vacant place. Every day I say I need to fix these glitches, in the meantime, make do with things as they are.

How I perceive the world is dependent on causes and conditions arriving here in present time as soon as the inclination, intention or volition arises. I can’t be separate from my kamma, according to preferences and likes/dislikes… it’s part of the software. I think I’m an independent being unaffected by anything or not affecting or influencing anything else. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see that all this is being monitored and directed by the ongoing needs and requirements of an entity; a ‘self’ that has no inherent solidity or existence of its own. I’m dismayed, of course, when it all gets swept away in randomness and returns later, subject to the kamma outcome (vipaka) from some other time.

The outer world just rolls along, as it does, in all its diversity, and wholly neutral. Whether there’s a belief in this or that, makes no difference; it’ll only always, ever be, just how it seems. The devastating emptiness of it all means the population is driven to go out, get and do. Attain and protect and defend – it can be a battlefield. To avoid and deny, to have fear and anxiety and be controlled by authority and feel threatened with the flimsy nature of existence, although the absolute timelessness of the world (anicca), is the beauty of it.

I’m aware the population are not able to see it like that; holding on to beliefs, clutching at straws, and quite unaware that they are maintained in this unknowingness of the world like penned animals are by the farmer, well intentioned though he may be, in order to cultivate a special kind of hunger, clinging and craving (upadana tanha) for consumer goods – the economy depends on this. The greater the craving, the faster the turnover of stock and the Western style of God together with governments and the corporations are simply involved in farming the population.

Workers structure their lives around employment and this fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism. They can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

‘There is a path to walk on, walking is being done but there is no traveller. There are deeds but there is no doer. There is no self. The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole]


Photo: A dramatic explosion is caught on camera outside of the Capitol building amid pro-Trump riots / REUTERS

the foreseeable future

POSTCARD#400: Bangkok: I carry my present time with me, through the shadows of the immediate past and into the near future. Before this and after that. There and then in future time becomes the here-and-now in the present, then in past time it falls away into a kind of death. The word mindfulness as we know it today, wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in my young days, only listening to the words of adults, paying attention to what was wise, thus being careful not to misjudge the dynamics of a situation, losing my footing, and I’m in pain and injury.

Like fumbling the ball, the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and I’m brought to earth  by way of an accompanying collision subsequently in hospital with two broken ribs. I’ve been there, done that, and ready for further attempts by gravity to bring me down… the next could be my grave. In the meantime, as long as there is mindfulness sufficient to see the dangers of a careless and irresponsible way of life – as long as that level of mindfulness is present, it’s enough to be going on with.

25 December 2020, Unavoidably drawn by the crowds going to the Malls in search of something thought to be deservedly earned because we’ve been having such a hard time trying to obtain it. Besides, it’s Christmas. I see lights, hear applause and a band playing, drum-roll ‘rrrrrrrrr boom!’ cymbals ‘crash!’ Welcome all from near and far, situated in a wonderland or trapped in that predicament… regardless, whatever, we are propelled further along the path to where there is no exit. Choices are subject to skillful marketing research options, sales strategies, my innate ability to find the Path obscured in clouds of delusion, for now it’s gone off somewhere. Accordingly drawn like a magnet into the depths of this wonderful place and disinclined to get out of here. The whole thing cannot be anything other than what it is – we have to buy our way out.

The ‘me’ I live with is not an unyielding entity. I can ‘think it’ into this present time, and encourage and cherish its presence by clicking on the ‘unlock’ button to allow marketing options, gently nudging at the elbow. Other times it goes out of control an unsatiated demanding thing, as in Formula One Live Grand Prix Event; voracious hunger driven to catch, clutch, hold, eat. Fearsome, like a death unforeseen, unfinished, lonely… a sadness seeking completeness, searching for closure in this way and finding there is an antidote. It is loving-kindness (metta) for the unloved, a special kind of meditation. Click here for the full text.

It’s not difficult to practice loving kindness for the unloved here in Thailand because there are Temples all around us where Buddhist monks are sitting in quiet meditation very early in the morning, and in the evening. Thailand of course is a Buddhist country. Centuries of meditation, mindfulness and the quiet still mind of the lineage of monks has had an historical effect on the outer environment. This is still the Old World… or you could say simply that it’s just a gentle place, no extreme life-threatening conditions.

But there is another side to this – 25 December 2020: an unexpected outbreak of Covid 19, more than 1,000 people possibly infected in Samut Sakhon, a province adjacent to Bangkok on the Southwest side (Quite near to where we are). There is a large Myanmarese (Burmese) community in the fishing industry here. Undocumented migrant workers enter and leave Thailand, undetected by border-control-testing for Covid 19. They cross the border at night, going to Samut Sakhon for work, or returning to their families in Myanmar. Among them are those infected with Covid 19 who have come to Thailand to be treated in Thai hospitals because they cannot get access to treatment in their own country. There are also cases of Thai women in the entertainment business working in Myanmar and based in Thailand and going between the two countries on a regular basis.

It is a complex problem, likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. We are immediately concerned about the sudden proximity of the disease to where we are living. Another lock-down likely any day now.

another kind of tsunami

POSTCARD#398: Phuket [say: pooket]: Shades of grey give way to shafts of light. The long dark night is relieved by daylight of day. A black crow flies through the remaining darkness: crawcraw, announcing its presence, a being, yet not a being, a location in time and space. It flies between the buildings with louder and louder calls echoing from the walls, until it passes over the top of the block where we are situated, CRAWCRAW! The sound gets fainter as it disappears behind the next building, then into the distance … crawcraw.  I’m listening to that sound until nothing can be heard at all and there’s only me, deaf with listening.

A sleepless night… isolate the headache, I’m exhausted with the perception, the interpretation, ideas. Remove anything that encourages the tendency to fall into the dream, the concept, the delusion. It simply is-as-it-is. Now it’s morning and time for everything to move on; what’s left over falls back into last night. Looking forward, I feel the headache could be less up-front in awareness quite soon and it’s time for breakfast – see where that gets me. Leave Jiab sleeping, and along the marble-tiled corridor, the sweeping staircase, note the Sino-Portuguese mansion architecture. Now into the breakfast room and looking around, out the window, round the corner… nobody here.

Take the table by the window… me and my headache. Silence, it feels like that Sunday morning, sleep-late feeling – but it’s 7 am Thursday, and maybe I’m the only one awake… is there anybody else here? Awareness poised, wait and see… the world seen as an empty hotel/ Sino-Portuguese mansion/ breakfast room, coastal winds blow through, continuous streams of sensory data from the ‘outside world’ pass into this body/mind, processed at eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind constructs thought patterns, preliminary drafts, concepts that evolve in clarifications, all the reasons why – the ‘how’ of things rather than the ‘what’.

A pigeon flutters in, comes to rest on my window ledge, folds away it’s wings, and there’s this small bird-sized sigh, filling its lungs with air, releasing it and a little ‘bob’ of the fat round body. It sees my image through the glass, looks at me curiously, extended neck turns, then gets involved with preening its feathers in strangely revealing postures.

I hear a toilet cistern being flushed – soon after there’s the sound of someone moving plates and things around. I go and see; only one person to lay out these tables and serve food? Sawadi-khrap, I give her my order for an omelette and toast, get a cup of coffee, the newspaper and back to my table. Swallow headache medicine in advance of the food arriving. Read the headlines – aha! It’s a holiday [Constitution Day, 10 December, 2020] that’s why there’s no staff. No tourists either (aha! again), of course, because of the Covid 19 restrictions.

We took a taxi yesterday to Pa tong beach, very little traffic on the way, closed down shops everywhere and very few foreigners on the beach. Sympathy for the Phuket people, who managed to survive the tsunami in 2004, the loss of life and economic ruin. Followed by the coronavirus in 2019, another kind of tsunami in a place that is dependent on tourism.

Newspaper articles: The only way for foreign tourists to enter Thailand is with the Special Tourist Visa (STV), and a 14-day quarantine. The STV is allowing 40 tourists a day to enter; in 2019 daily arrivals averaged nearly 110,000. Only a quarantine-free welcome can deliver the numbers needed to resuscitate the tourist industry.

According to the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, tourism businesses in Phuket suffered a loss of 180 billion baht (€4.84 billion/$5.72 billion) in the first half of 2020.

How to open the country safely? Thailand cannot wait for vaccines. They stand no chance of eliminating the disease globally. A more realistic solution comes from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Director: “The end of the pandemic is the moment that we as a community are going to learn how to live with this pandemic.”

Historical note: Phuket island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, frequently mentioned in 16th Century foreign ships’ logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. Phuket was never colonised by a European power.


 

trump and the seventy-one million

POSTCARD#395: Bangkok: He’s gone from my side of the political fence, and without media support he’s nowhere to be found – is the world starting to forget Donald J. Trump? The fear of his predicted pay-back time came and went. His claim of voter fraud proved to be a fraud in itself – all of his plots backfired and everything is now moving slowly towards the exit. Time for a celebration, it’s quiet for the first time in four years. We can ease back from the fear, outrage and hate, and there’s the distinct feeling that the Trump enchantment has vanished from the heart. A new Democratic leadership in agreement with revived Republicanism, can pull the country back from the brink of disaster.

But he’s not gone yet! Whatever he’s saying with Rudy Giuliani, disregard the content and consider the rhetoric of Trump. He poisons the mind. He is toxic. He is hazardous, injurious and ruinous to health. Narcissistic ego-maniacs like Trump, control situations by sending the other person into confusion and dismay. So, if you see him again, pick up the remote, switch off, switch over, or get yourself out of there! Beware of thinking this is the endgame, the last act, just before the bottom drops out of his world and there we are, glued to our television screens. We want closure but instead, we’re getting locked into the hurt again, the pain, the sick feeling. Building up an endurance threshold, and tolerating the suffering unknowingly creates an attachment to it – thus we have an insight into the power he has over people.

The Buddhist in me has to acknowledge Trump is an extraordinary being – I mean what do you give to a kid who has everything? A child who becomes a millionaire at the age of eight? Now after a lifetime of getting what he wants, he must also know everything there is to know about the dark side of desire; bliss becomes irritation in a moment and then it’s a hell realm. He must have tried over and over to modify desire and get it to continue to be what he wants maybe with some success but in the midst of disaster, fury, rage: the First Noble Truth: Suffering, dukkha… start here.

There’s no evidence that Trump ever tried to explore the mind in any wholesome way, he learned about letting go because holding on to what he wanted had to include the things he didn’t want being there too – best not to get unduly attached. He learned about superficialities; forever searching for harmless foolish things, something to obtain, procure, secure –a mood, a good feeling – the culture of consumerism. Always wanting something else, but not able to narrow down the options sufficiently to get what he actually wants. All that remains is the ‘wanting’ itself, hungry and dissatisfied, ungratified desire, in the man who could have anything and wanting the ‘wanting’ to stop doesn’t make it stop, it only increases the level of ‘wanting’. This is the First Noble Truth: Suffering, dukkha… start here.

There is some wisdom he acquired perhaps but Trump is not able to remove the cause of his Suffering because – and this may come as a surprise to some of us, he is a drug addict. I’ve gone through YouTube and I’m convinced, check it out below:

Link: The Prescription President

Making up the seventy-one million who voted for Trump, are various individuals and large numbers of bikers, gun-carrying country boys all of whom found their raison d’etre as Trump followers. A communication network has evolved with Trump as the star. Minders and facilitators fall into place because Trump himself has no qualities of leadership other than a series of well placed one-liners. A support set-up and multi-tasking team do what is required because, according to Michael Cohen, Trump doesn’t actually do anything himself, he has other people do it for him. The planning for what happens next politically is underway, and this is a force to be reckoned with.

In his appearances at these airport rallies, he wears the persona of a fallen angel come down to be with the ordinary folk, bearing wealth and influence to invest in social change (the likes of which we have never seen). He entertains the crowds with theatrical references to ‘the deep state’, uses incidental swearwords; they roar and cheer and he bonds immediately with the mass seventy-one million.

But there’s something in the air… it’s Joe Biden’s demeanor, being calm when answering reporters’ questions. The sense of his being calm is making me calm. But is his ‘calm’ sufficient to quell the coming storm? Does he have the organizational skills to build an entire army of ‘less talk, more action’, just getting on with The Right Thing, and whatever is necessary to bring COVID to an end? In this way, the Trump catastrophe becomes an incentive to do better, very much better – and picking up a few Republicans on the way, open the economy at the right time, in the right way.


 

ridding the mind of Trump

POSTCARD#394: Bangkok: This is a Buddhist (common sense) approach but that doesn’t mean getting rid of him is any easier – Trump has burrowed into our thoughts over the last four years, lurking in the dark recesses of the mind where it’s difficult to get him out. For those of us who don’t know the mind through meditation or who maybe never thought about it before, there may be a perceived fear to be dealt with quickly at first. This has nothing to do with Trump (although he’d like you to think that it has). Practice long easy deep breathing and there’s that awareness of being unsure of it… it’s a familiarity with uncertainty; therefore I know something about that dark place in the mind, I didn’t know before, and I’m not as fearful as I was! 

Fear is created by the heedless accumulation of thoughts joined together any old way, and spiralling up into the mind for no good reason (papanca). Be mindful about fear, ignoring it will only create fear of fear.

One thing I know about uncertainty for sure, is that it isn’t always associated with fear, it’s also associated with joy – uncertainty is what I experience in the moments before receiving a gift, or an award, a discovery, a revelation, enlightenment; any of these kinds of events.

Ridding the mind of Trump is like this, knowing that it is possible and knowing what he is; a comic book character in a TV series; he’s a bit pathetic, the ‘Joker’ in Batman fits the stereotype. He’s not just an entertainer, on some level he poisons everything, he is a force to be reckoned with. He likes to play the part of a thug but we see through it – ‘he’s not a convincing gangster, he is a national disaster.’ (CNN Anchor)

Maybe I think Trump is punishing me because I don’t like him, but that’s not it. He just knows how to play the bad guy, and make me feel like that. The whole thing is an act a piece of high drama, theatre, showmanship … ‘click’ on the remote, and he’s gone. Open the door and chase him out – letting go also of all the causes and conditions that allowed him to come into my mind in the first place. Do it again and again. If I can clean him out of my mind like this, the feeling is one of grateful relinquishment – replaying the story over and over, and taking enough time to experience the immense release that comes from learning how simple it is to get rid of him.

For some of us, it’s difficult to get rid of him completely, be mindful of Trumpian stunts left behind; mindful of the critical mind, conflict, resentment and laying traps for people. Mindful of holding a grudge; mindful of engaging with hate – I need to practice non-hate, thus not caught up in the automatic experience of it.

It’s worthwhile to consider here, an important part of the Buddha’s teaching, Anatta, ‘there is no Self’ (although there is no record of the Buddha ever putting it into these words), rather it’s the sense of ‘I’ that is understated, indirect, and there’s a gentle release of the ‘grip’ on how I (personally) think things should be done, no matter how strong the tenacity of the habit is to hold on.

In this way, there’s no chance of ‘me’ being swept off again today in that Trumpian wave of anger and hurt, because there’s no ‘self’ to whom it’s likely to happen. Therefore, I don’t have to have this edginess of discomfort in the heart today (gratitude for that). The dark cloud of oppression is not hanging over me.

I can see there is suffering (dukkha) in the world, because of the holding on to things we love and hate (or love to hate). If I can focus on my own breathing and let go of whatever it is in my mind that’s causing the suffering then it will all pass away of its own accord.

Compassion for those of us who are holding on unknowingly to the pain and suffering caused by outrageous Trumpist deeds. Let it all go at the first opportunity. All physical and mental events, come into being and dissolve.”

One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it… maybe that’s enough. The focus is on acceptance rather than rejection, loving-kindness for the unloved. Focus on doing the right thing, small acts of kindness.

 “The vastness created these human circuitries in order to have an experience of itself out of itself that it couldn’t have without them.” [Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite]


 

the mind state of contentment and wonder

POSTCARD#393: Bangkok: Last week I wrote about Contentment and Restlessness – there’s a lot to be said about contentment, in view of these last few days counting votes and sometimes the atmosphere heavy with suffering. This is how things are, it begins with impatience, and we start to get fired up in a negative, critical mind state. At any time, Trump slices into the moment with outrageous accusations, the latest in a litany of attacks. No rest for the mind, active thinking, the thinking ‘thing’ itself, sees the world in a bleak unforgiving way, and the word ’contentment’ doesn’t fit in the vocabulary of a restlessness mind, falling over itself in the search of something else to feel negative about, somewhere else to go.

Why is contentment so hard to find? It’s not about being in a state of contentment all the time, it’s about being content enough with the state of things as they are at this moment. A few deep in-breath/out-breaths will get me there and I start to create order in the small objects all around. I examine each part of my movements and slowly joyful awareness takes the place of the harsh interchange of the restless mind. Piece by piece I can start to step into the context of mindfulness in the world of contentment.

I’ve been watching the vote-counting on CNN from here in Bangkok and not familiar with the way they do things in this kind of news program. But it seems to me, if you want to have a restless mind, right now CNN is the place to be… suffering endures. (all the more reason to switch off the noise and find some ease from time to time). The counting of votes has been going on through the nights and into the days, while ongoing CNN discussions center on hypothetical projections that predict the winners before they finish counting the votes, and what the variables are that could change the state of play. It gives me a headache just to think about it! At any time the percentages of votes for each candidate could go spiraling up or spinning down. And that was the ‘roller-coaster’ ride we were on.

At the start, it was a huge disappointment for Democrats that the anticipated “big blue wave” never happened – hope went right out the window… with it went the prospects of black people, the unresolved pain of Black Lives Matter – they were hurting. All of us were, except the Republicans who were seeing a surge of popular vote, or so it seemed. Their numbers started to flood in, higher than ever before, and quite early into the counting, Trump announced he was the winner and the counting had to stop… even though there were hundreds of thousand of votes yet to be counted.

Typical Trump, I search in my mind for what the Buddha might say about this, with a focus on Doubt [Vicikicchā]. I can overcome doubt by ‘gathering clear instructions, and having a good map, in order to find the subtle landmarks’ in these hostile surroundings. There are so many detailed ancient writings on the mind in whatever state, I have to find something awesome that is easily understood on a vast scale:

“In his exposition of the contemplation of the state of mind, the Buddha mentions sixteen kinds of mental states to be noted: the mind with lust, the mind without lust, the mind with aversion, the mind without aversion, the mind with delusion, the mind without delusion, the cramped mind, the scattered mind, the developed mind, the undeveloped mind, the surpassable mind, the unsurpassable mind, the concentrated mind, the unconcentrated mind, the freed mind, the un-freed mind.

It is not identified with as “I” or “mine,” not taken as a self or as something belonging to a self. Whether it is a pure state of mind or a defiled state, a lofty state or a low one, there should be no elation or dejection, only a clear recognition of the state. The state is simply noted, then allowed to pass without clinging to the desired ones or resenting the undesired ones.” [Right Mindfulness, Satipatthana Sutta]

It helps of course if we can release the hold we have on Self for a moment. There’s no abiding self that does it all. The mind is not a lasting subject of thought, feeling, and volition, rather it is a sequence of momentary mental acts, each distinct and discrete, their connections with one another causal rather than substantial.

As the CNN broadcast was going on day after day, I was thrown into doubt many times, the sickness of being ensnared in the Trump trap with Trumpists calling out ‘voter fraud’. A scary time, we were propelled into a possible Biden Presidential success. Down the narrow end of the telescope, in sudden rush to the final countdown but we hadn’t arrived yet! Held in the inevitability of circumstances… surrounded by accusing Trumpists voices and their conspiracy theories.

Despite the hostility, I remained relatively unscathed. So good to have access to the mind state of contentment and wonder. I can breathe deeply and long. All these millions and hundreds of thousands of individual persons cast their votes, they’re counted and placed together in identifiable groups, and the vastness of it all without a Self.

Language is the metaphor, just in itself. Mysteriously incidental meanings arise of their own accord as if they’d been consciously created, contained by this form… it’s just like that. Everything made-to-measure, more or less exactly. We live in a bespoke world. Everything seemingly custom-built, social behaviour, language, there isn’t anything that’s not constructed.

Donald Trump is a noisy litigious being, capable of criminal acts. His threatening voice slices into my mind; Trumpist voices accuse us of hidden manipulating of the final countdown. At one point everything was hanging in the balance; it’s 2020 a double-double Georgia 49.4 and 49.4 waiting for the vote-counting lady to say which way it would go. Oh-no! I’m feeling sick again, an ache in the gut. Where is my contentment, the antidote to a restless mind? It’s within me, deep breathing ‘breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng. I left the broadcast with four states remaining, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona.  I see from this morning it looks good for Biden. The counting goes on and I am just so relieved we are in this world!


 

delete the ‘my’ in myself

POSTCARD#390: Bangkok: After hours of inert television watching I switch it off just to see what the room I’m in, looks like. The severity of greyness is devastating. All the appealing colour and images, and perfect celebrity dental work, all of it sucked into the silence of a room ‘on hold’. I’m not used to being absolutely with body and mind… by the way, where is Mind? Intrusive thinking nearly shoves me off my seat into an elbow-supporting-head and eyes blinded by the squabbling politician of recent TV watching, downloading a self that I hope knows how best to cope with these bad feelings that are quarreling and heckling in my head! The desire to punish, hurt destroy – the sheer hatred of a person/situation, generating energy both seductive and addictive. So much political ill-will and ambient anger about the place, a spark could ignite a storm.

Uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, shouting out: “Stand back and stand by!” I shudder at the thought, four more years, maybe ongoing, and in a dystopian world, Donald and Covid re-elected (⌘C ⌘V) over and over. All I can see and hear is dark and does not bode well. Bleak TV documentaries showing in the Mind; a clamor of conjured-up characters and the story of their sad lives. “What am I looking for?” but the way is blocked by a dense cloud-like thought that states: “Searching for something creates the certainty that it’s lost.” I attempt to disown everything that belongs to me. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they are just thoughts. None of this is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me.

Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears to be how I choose to see it. I don’t look out at the world, the world looks in at me, sees me, watches me… there, waiting for instructions. It’s another illusion of self because there is no “me” of substance in here. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. Smells, touch, tastes trigger responses I’m pulled towards or repelled by. It’s not what I thought – that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body. The body is there to serve the five senses ever seeking pleasure and delight one way or another.

Mind contemplating the experience of the body seated on the chair; aware of the places where legs touch the seat, the touch of arms on armrests, bearing the weight, and everything else is just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below: left, right, left, right. Images of wood-block-patterned flooring enter my vision, floor mats, legs of furniture – objects seem to pass through the body. All I can see is the flooring and bare feet walking, now left, now right. Now on the staircase descending, further and further away from the television room, reaching the downstairs room and (outdoor shoes on) out to the garden.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: [Link] Sibylle Berg with T.Roadz, one of the British grime artists who joined her on a reading tour of Germany

a deep familiarity

POSTCARD#389: Bangkok: Somebody asked me if the headache was physical or mental, and it is difficult sometimes to say which is which, because the physical pain takes place in the same general area where mental or cognitive functions take place. Let’s say, it’s physical pain with associated mental events that are the origin of it sometimes; alarm signals that may bring my attention to some physical problem. Also, mental/cognitive activities in the form of discernment, investigate the best means of easing the discomfort. At the outset, I find it helps me travel through the pain if I can attribute it to the pain itself or to what extent it’s the pain I feel about having pain.

There are other situations, where I identify specific pain locations and relax the tightness. But these are all things I used to do at the beginning, finding my way around in a state of urgency. After five years of it, the actions have become automatic, I suppose. Or I don’t feel the pain as much as I did at the beginning when it was full catastrophe living, not the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was the escapee trying to disengage from the pain, but it would catch me again and again.

Remembering my lost non-pain state of mind, with a yearning for a world of impossible things, leads to nowhere (now here). There were some pain-free intervals created by nerve block treatment and pulsed radiofrequency procedures, lasting a few weeks only. Now there’s no motivation to continue with these neurological techniques because that non-pain state is long since dead and gone. Thinking about pain is pushed out of the way most of the time, there’s a particular focus of mind that just doesn’t go there. The meds sometimes give me a pain-free space – serotonin receptors and dopamine signaling, techno-speak, mumbo-jumbo… applause, and the curtains open on a short performance where the pain is almost not there at all.

Recently I bought a set of DIY tools and during these pain-free times I fixed  a flat-screen TV on the wall and mounted a set of shelves in the kitchen. But it took me a very long time, due to actions carried out in slow motion and short term memory loss; forgetting what I was doing and having to go back and do things again (and again), and sitting down to think about it for long periods.

Despite these blank states and on-going projects I ponder over, what I’m aiming at is simply a heart-felt state of well-being and regular visitors here will know that many years ago, I learned the Buddhist steps that lead to the end of suffering. There was a deep familiarity about this, as if it were a genetic code built into consciousness just waiting to be discovered). [Gratitude to the monks in Thailand, Switzerland and the UK]

The First Noble Truth: Pain is caused by wanting it to not be there (in a manner of speaking). The Second Noble Truth is finding the way out of suffering means I let go of the craving that feeds it – seeing it is really caused by holding on to the longing for impossible things. Then looking more carefully into the Third Noble Truth; the realization I don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way out: the Fourth Noble Truth; the Path and getting to know what all this actually means.

I understood the headache as an entity with detachment, it goes without a self to whom it would otherwise cause suffering. Long before it comes to be a headache, when it’s just neural sparks and a kind of ‘jitterieness’, there’s a transparency about it – a ‘becoming’ but no one who ‘becomes’. There’s no become-ee; a headache but no ‘headache-ee’ – it doesn’t belong to ‘me’. There’s an awareness of the headache, but no awareness of to whom it is happening. This is how it is at the best of times, less satisfactory states are forgotten and lost to memory.


“..when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence your deeper self behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.” [Eckhart Tolle]

Photo: Phrenological diagram of the bumps in the head. Phrenology was a pseudoscience in Victorian times which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits.
Many thanks to Elle who brought me back to Eckhart Tolle

the quiet space

POSTCARD#383: Bangkok: Switch off the TV and switch off the media in my head, their weapons of mass distraction that blind and deafen the population. Leave it alone, disengage from all things hateful before it starts burning down the house. Enter the quiet space and the silence is deafening, random notes of birdsong far away and beneath that, a deep quietude. It’s so remarkably neutral, I feel I’m sometimes not here at all. Seated on the sofa, watching my own breathing, I need to clear the mind of self, starting with the word ‘self’ itself.

Focus on nothing, despite the tendency to think of nothing as something. Nothing becomes both subject and object… what’s happening? I am not here, incognito perhaps, concealed in a makeshift identity. I don’t really know, it all seems to vanish as each new day dawns and deletes the memory of the previous day, an hour passes, replaces the hour before it and I can’t remember anything that recently happened.

A shipwreck of unrelated remembered things is cleared away and forgotten. Does anything still linger? An immediate awareness of self held in the act of endless seeking comes to an end. There is no seeker but there is seeking. There is seeking but no object. Seeking non-objects means seeking the motionless space in which the answer is, before the question is asked. The place where everything is and is not.

No-self, nothing exists anywhere, any time, ever. Deathlessness is the death of death… this too shall pass, the fragility of newly born beings, finely tuned creaturely beings which appear briefly, limited lifespan, and all that remains is the breathtaking tracery of what all this was, on an immense scale, a moment before it passed.

Lifetimes of sensory input, arising and passing away, karma of circumstances. A story is created in the mind, a few pieces get stitched together, switched around, and let’s say this is how it began: ‘Once upon a time.’ A story inside a story (inside a story) leading back through all the generations of previous segments of the story like this and linked to a lineage of ancient stories interconnected through a great number of former lives in the distant past.

An alertness is all there is, receiving the world and, since we are also the world, so to speak, it’s an all-inclusive enfolding, unfolding, and remaining in the present continuous form, ‘listening’ and ‘seeing’ and here comes the in-breath hurriedly at first, followed by the long, long out-breath. The in-breath comes again and so on like that until the mind forgets and most of it, then all of it, drifts into the past tense and gets forgotten.

“There is no thing there. There is no real substance, no solidity, and no self-existent reality. All there is, is the quality of experience itself. No more, no less. There is just seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, cognizing. And the mind naming it all is also just another experience.” [Ajahn Amaro]


 

mind is the sixth sense

POSTCARD#382: Bangkok: In Buddhism, there are 6 senses. The mind is a sense organ along with the other five senses. Mind is devoid of self, to become ‘self’, I just have to think ‘me’, and get it going in the head. I’ve known how to do this since we were all children in the reading class. We learned how to project a ‘self’ into the story when reading those brightly coloured picture-books, where we were invited to become a character in the story.

Then there were all the hundreds of books we studied in the schooling years, same extrapolative approach to finding an answer to the question, ‘who?’ with associated context, perspective, circumstance. Thus we know how to enter a situation as a person playing a part in a story. When it comes to an end we can become another player usually, or bring the session to a close.

If I’m watching a video – and nowadays I watch more videos than I read books – I recognize ‘self’ in the various actors and the parts that they play – some of which have been created deliberately to induce very strong emotional responses. I suspect I could become addicted, as others are, driven to seek more and more situations that’ll satisfy the ego cravings of ‘selfhood’.

“When the mind contains unknowing (avijja), it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self’, the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities.”

I used to think that ‘self’ was the state of mind that attaches to ‘me’ and that’s how it goes for all of us. I didn’t realize there was more to it than that until I read the above B. Buddhadasa quote, and: the ‘vast myriad of things seen as independent entities’. Now I see how everything is subject to the naming function in language, also the Buddhist usage in ancient Indian Sanskrit: nāmarūpa (name and form)

“The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.”

Politics has entered the television studio in a larger-than-life, dynamic form. A simple manipulation of events, insisting it’s the truth, but it’s a lie of course, and immediately I notice an uneasiness in the ‘self’ and distressing narratives in the mind. I don’t know how to get my ‘self’ out of here. Not so easy because the fact that it cannot be extricated from its context becomes what it is. My struggle simply enhances an already complex situation.

This is how it becomes like a bad dream – there’s no escape, it seems, and I struggle to create a way out by way of a kind of split ‘self’. One part listens to the dialogue, absorbing images and all kinds of stuff that support what’s being said, meanwhile the other part sees it as totally false. The urgency of it all causes me to split into two or more selves again and again.

I can’t bear this conflict of ‘selves’ and I feel I could give way to it all. Let them have what they ask for. I just want to hide somewhere and sleep for a long time. This is where we can return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings – in some quiet place, away from the television room. The focus of contemplation is on the empty mind.

“The word ’empty’ refers to the characteristic of mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact.”

Note that these talks were recorded in 1961 and Ajahn doesn’t talk about ‘self’ in the context of television, movies, or radio because these kinds of media were not as developed as they are today. My own feeling regarding the mind as a sense organ is that ‘self’ arises as a result of sense contact (phassa) in the same way as the other sense organs. Speech, language are a trigger, of course, also conceptual thought, images arising in the mind as past memories or speculations about the future.

“[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.”

“… ego – consciousness has no way of arising in the future, in other words, not allowing it to arise at any moment.”

“Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.”


Photo: statue of the Buddha’s disciple Śāriputra. SadahamYathra – https://pixabay.com/photos/buddha-meditation-religion-3153417/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85420637