the painted face

POSTCARD#404: Bangkok: The days of Biden are here at last. I’m happy but wounded in the battles of Trump. Speaking figuratively, I’m not one to go to war. Many of us suffered when the painted face came on television and we’d have to brace against his silent malice and spite. It hurt deep in the centre of my being. Not able to recover properly, the mind was in overwhelm because the hurt was an accumulation of all the other times he induced the hurt.

He had a knack for it, thus able in an evil sort of way I suppose to swing things to his advantage; the heritage of an old woman born in the Outer Hebrides; the lady who was his mother. I say this because I’m from Scotland and had friends in Skye where I spent my summers for seven years in the 60s. I can’t say I ever met someone like Mary Anne MacLeod of Tong, Isle-of-Lewis, Scotland, but I recognise the Western Isle’s ways of persuasion.

“The likes of which the world has never seen.” He said it too many times – sorry Mr. Trump, the world has seen most of what you said and it doesn’t amount to much. Always and forever, (the collective) ‘we’ are in recovery from the overwhelm, our dwellings lost in the floods of ancient times. The timeless metaphor of a mind overcome in a tide of worries, fears, and things left undone. Sorrow, lamentation and despair; swept along by relenting events, surfacing and going under. These are the perennial ‘floods’, and crossing them is about coming through all that to find some firm ground. The Buddha throws a lifeline to the isolated, overwhelmed beings that we all recognize in ourselves from time to time. If we hold it firmly, it will guide us back home to solid ground and a renewed sense of community.

Suddenly I’m not thinking about the “why” of things anymore, just sitting quietly here, watching the in-breath/out-breath. Intelligent control over the energy of thought… and when there’s an opportunity, seek a place in the high ground. Find equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, the balance, the midway point. Find a temporary abiding there, return to the inward disposition to give, to have compassion for; generosity, virtue, kindness, gladness.

Thus the Buddha’s damage-repair comes into play; that natural ability to relinquish – we may not be skilled in the act of surrender but can access the power that immediately releases the tenacity of grip, the jaw clench, tongue adhered to roof of mouth…. unlock, unfasten, undo. Watchful too of the mindless repetition: I don’t-want-it-to-be-like-this, and so finding it difficult to disengage from making a bad situation worse.

Quietly watching the in-breath and the out-breath, renunciation (nekkhamma) is the ability to let go of the pull towards a sense object. Renunciation is the third of ten perfections (pāramī) that Buddhists cultivate in the mind in the Theravada tradition to this day.

The first two are Generosity (dana) and Virtue, morality or ethical sensitivity (sila). In the aftermath of the inelegant storm that was Trump, I thought it was timely and a good idea to consider these pāramī. (continued Jan 29)

Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto

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.

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.


 

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!


 

vaccine for the restless mind

POSTCARD#392: Bangkok: Trump’s election typhoon makes landfall in my mind. Hurricane category one or two. Get down in the basement with all our supplies. All the doors and windows are closed but somehow these intrusive thoughts still get in. Does everybody suffer like this? I’m sure they do, although for the Trumpist obstructionists it’s their rallying call and this is what we have today.

It’s people like us, everywhere in the world, separate from political affiliation, who can feel the suffering of the American people and fear for the Western world. How about our spiritual friends, mentors, do they have disturbing thoughts like this? I’m sure they do, but the difference is they know how to apply the cure – and this is the important thing, there is a cure for this dis-ease. The Buddha was here, understood it and found a solution.

Encouraging to know the Buddha went through all kinds of mind states and found a solution to each problem. In the Pali language, this is uddhacca-kukkucca, Restlessness and Worry, number 4 of the 5 Hindrances, characterized by a mind that is agitated and unable to settle down.

“Restlessness [uddhacca] refers to a mind that’s never able to stay long with anything. It is powered by the energy of a negative assertiveness and cannot be satisfied with things as they are, so it has to move on always to the promise of something better than ‘this’.” (Ajahn Brahm) The discomfort of restlessness creates an outward looking tendency – what can I do to fix this? And there is an answer to that question.

There is a ‘vaccine’ that will bring the dis-ease of a restless mind to an end, and it is found in activities centered around developing contentment. If I take any simple activity, like tidying the papers on my desk and examine each part of my actions in each moment with joyful awareness, and persist in this for the rest of the day as long as I remember to do it and pick it up again if I’ve forgotten, then I learn the simplicity of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more.

In the engagement with domestic tasks, I am joyfully content with small successes, I investigate the smallest details of the body’s movements, and don’t miss out on any part of the joyful awareness. I am grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its faults.

In meditation, restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the joyful deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage.

Worry [kukkucca]; simply put, I worry about the outcome of the presidential election. Will Trump try to undermine the whole thing by whatever means? Yes, he will probably try and I need to be aware of the proliferating thought pattern that immediately arises from this perceived situation. Instead of going with that, I can channel my energy back into joyful awareness, knowing that ‘worry’ is what it is and I need to go into a deeper analysis of the word ‘worry’.

There is worry /anxiety/ remorse /regret, and some aspects of these words are specific types of restlessness which may be the karmic outcome [vipāka] of former unwise actions. The only way to overcome the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one’s virtue and become kind, wise and gentle.

The word ‘karma’ as it’s used today is an oversimplification that makes it seem like something not to be taken seriously. Focus on what it really is – the mechanics of why we suffer and how we can make the suffering end in the here-and-now.

Karma (literally, “action”) is nothing other than the Buddha’s compassionate explanation of the way things are: our thoughts and actions determine our future, and therefore we ourselves are largely responsible for the way our lives unfold. The understanding of karma provides a foundation for a virtuous life, and how it can have a transformative effect on the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings and to those around us. I investigate the concept of karma with joyful awareness knowing the Buddha is present in all mind states and he has the right vaccine for any kind of psycho-virus.


Sources: Ajahn Brahmavamso, Traleg Kyabgon, Gil Fronsdal
Image: Sunset Community Counseling

a somewhere-else place

POSTCARD#391: Bangkok: Awake in the darkness before 6 am, lift the body up into the folded legs position, get seated on two hard pillows sinking into the mattress so I can hold my position comfortably just above the level of the bed, kinda floating there with the knees supported by the mattress and rolled up edges of quilts pushed into the gaps. It takes a moment or two to get it feeling right… then there is only the breath.

Breath entering the body. Impact of incoming air in the nasal passage, “Breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng”. The breath hurries away, then comes back again as if it has forgotten something – searching all through the body, then it withdraws. Breath enters the body again, this time like a gust of wind, blows everything all over the place. Withdraws in a moment and it’s gone.

Vivid sweeps of colour and a curious light illuminating the space perceived behind the eyes. Mind is aware of the pain that’s always here, otherwise mesmerized by the form and function of the body, only slightly held in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid lizard-like slides over surface of smooth eyeball and that strangely seen light entering my darkness; just this…

Twittering birds in the trees outside tell me it’s near daybreak, sensory processes perceive the world, aware that it’s an upside down reflected hologram the brain and optic nerve make sense of – understood but impossible to see it as it is. Or is this how it is… in its as-it-is-ness? Was this world here before I was born? Duality. Everything just going on as it is now, without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating; birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, here in this thin slice of time, revisiting the discussion; all that was said, received, held, seen, nurtured.

Then, a window opens. There’s a visitor arriving from somewhere, thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. He appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, string showing round the neck at the collar; latch-door key kid, scruffy uniform, bleeding at the knee. Teacher in a gentle voice says, ‘You have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says ‘yes Miss, and shuffles out of the room to go and see the nurse about the knee. Teacher was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today. For me, as an adult it remained something unlearned, but bearing a familiarity and intuitively known when it became conscious.

Daylight is here and I’m now lying on the bed, thinking about the small boy as he was in a state of anxious urgency every day and for many years to come. No one at home for support, forgetful and undecided because of the struggle to ‘get it right’ and nobody to reassure him that yes, you can leave book-work and use intelligent guesswork. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough.  

I’m telling myself this of course too late for it to be to be acted upon. I had to take the long way round; wasted years disappeared, searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, shelter, gratification, everything thrown to the wind. Stumbling and crashing through the successes and failures of many lives, and coming to India more than thirty years ago – there to be suddenly awakened to “The Whole Story”. It took me a very long time to grow up, and even now at the age of 73 years, I feel like an adolescent. Maybe I stayed young and it’s the world that got old…?

I continue to return to these windows that open in memory. There must be a larger awareness that includes this, here-and-now… an awareness of one thought that includes awareness of another. There’s something that allows me to consider this, I’m seeing it from a somewhere-else place.

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

letting it go

POSTCARD#388: Bangkok: The photo of the boy and his mum, and the old monk with hands that have done a lifetime of physical work reminds me of the automatic generosity of the Thais and how nothing is ‘held on to’ more than is necessary at the time. As far as I can see, the Thai culture is free of most of the typical psychological problems we have in the West.

There’s so much we could learn from sharing, giving things away, good-heartedness. Generosity, is letting it go; releasing the persistence of holding on to things; all that baggage we burden ourselves with can be removed in one single act of generosity.

I’m the same as most of us Western folks, internalizing all kinds of stuff without realizing. Holding on like that for a month or so and I’m talking here about a physical problem I had, uptight and worried about it. My health condition being as it is with my large consumption of water, a side effect of whatever it is in the meds for the headaches that makes me feel dry all the time. What happened was the sodium level dropped well below the norm, but more serious than that, was the throat now painfully raw due to what I thought was the excessive swallowing of liquid.

Whether it was that or not, I became aware by observing this sore throat, it did not feel like a benign thing. When the pain arose, it was like something that reached to the centre of my being. What could this be! A malign tumor hidden away somewhere in the digestive tract?

I wrestled with the thought for ages and eventually went to see the ENT doctor and in a few minutes, we were looking at a video screen showing the inside of the mouth cavity seen from the nasal passages, by way of an endoscope camera tube, passed through a nostril.

I was surprised and interested to learn the tube could not enter through the right nostril at the time because it was almost completely blocked, but the other nostril was clear. This is the nasal cycle where the actions of the blood flow according to the inflow/outflow of air, switch from one nostril to the other every 2 hours or so, and that’s just the way it works.

I was quite comfortable sitting there with this nice doctor and her assistant. Having the camera tube inside the throat cavity was painless and the video screen where I could see the funny-looking vocal cords and I felt even more relaxed when the ENT doc said there was no evidence of a tumor! The ghoulish presence hanging over everything was swept away and forgotten.

The doc said the deep pain was probably an aspect of the same neuralgia condition that causes the headaches. The Right Occipital Nerve Root is near to the back of the throat, and when a nerve is activated it sends off the same erroneous alarm signal that is characteristic of Post Herpetic Neuralgia. Ah well, same old thing, no worries I have learned how to cope with that ‘scary monster’.

It was learning about the nasal cycle, switching from one nostril to the other that was remarkable. I looked it up in Google and this is the gist of it: blood vessels in the sides of the nostrils warm and humidify the air coming in through the nose before it reaches the lungs. The process uses one nostril at a time rather than both at the same time. Blood flow is sent first to one nostril so that it warms the air coming in. The interior of the nostril receiving the blood flow starts to swell and blocks the space slightly. As a result, there’s less room for air to get in, that’s when it switches to the other nostril.

This little gem of info is important to meditators who spend time in meditation every day, focused on the in-breath and out-breath. It’s also a great example of the allowing, the giving of space, the widespread generosity found in nature; systems in place to allow more than enough of whatever it is.

“Species as diverse as bees, birds, bats, rats, and chimpanzees all exhibit forms of generosity, or what can be broadly described as ‘prosocial behavior’—acts that benefit others. The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own.” [Summer Allen, Ph.D.]

Generosity is a glad willingness to share what we have with others. Give it away, we have more than enough. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, to ‘possess’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Brainstorm the word ‘generosity’ and you come up with compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honour, motivation, encouragement. Generosity is everything. It’s nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given and never taken.