enigma of hiccups

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POSTCARD#98: Bangkok/Chiang Mai flight: M has the hiccups but can’t remember the English word for it and asks me: How you say sa-oog in English Toong-Ting? Thai onomatopoeia describes it well – and just as she’s asking the question, by way of example, the involuntary existential hiccup arrives. She recovers from the small jolt and looks at me with a kind of inner alertness. I tell her it’s a hiccup and she laughs – it’s the name of a character in a cartoon movie [How To Train Your Dragon 2]. I show her how to hold her breath for as long as she can, take a quick in-breath, and then keep on doing that. But no worries, we’ll be landing soon and that’ll divert her attention. The descent is quite bumpy… turbulent hiccups in the outer world. Luggage compartments overhead rattle and creak in the vibration. For a moment there’s an awareness of tremendous velocity, vulnerability, and the mind conjures up some kind of explanation for it. I feel like we’re on a road in the air, bumps caused by an imagined uneven road surface; a highway in the sky… a bridge that spans the distance from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – descending from the heavens now on this huge curved span all the way down to the surface of the planet.

There’s the sound of hydraulics, down go the wheels and the earth rises up to meet us. We are 300 people contained in a structure the size of a building, careering along at 200 mph in a collision course with the Earth. The deep uncertainty of our situation fills my awareness for a moment, then there’s the soft bump and we’re down. Wheels take the weight, first one side then the other, the deep lurch, sink-down/bounce-back as it settles and the engines roar like the dragon in M’s cartoon movie. The end of quite a long journey; Chiang Mai/Hat Yai, via Bangkok and home again for M. It’s just another arrival for me, there’ll be a departure again on 30 October; I’m traveling most of the time. Thirty years on the road, the default link with my own culture is not as important as it was. Thailand is my country of choice now and for the rest of my life. I can be M’s teacher of English until I’m old and grey – one of a minority of West/East migrants assimilating with the host country. The story of how the US came to be… identity is a created thing

Out of the plane and along the corridor, M walking along beside me with her little bag; the totality of her being, head to toe, is inside my field of vision… so small. She seems to be all-right with everything and all the events so far; hiccups are gone and chatting about all kinds of stuff I can’t quite hear. I have to guess what she’s saying and comment with appropriate responses like: really? oh yes, hmmm… and that’s working okay until there’s something that sounds like a question: Toong-Ting, when you were in your mummy’s tummy, before you were borned, you didn’t breathe, right? and I say, Right! confirming this truth. She’s still thinking about holding her breath to stop hiccups. After that there’s a fairly complex observation on the enigma of hiccups and life in general. Sounds interesting but I can’t quite understand it because I missed the first part. We walk on through the long corridors in the arrivals and out to the taxis: really? oh yes, hmmm…

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‘As all waves are in the ocean, so are all things physical and mental in awareness. Hence awareness itself is all-important, not the content.’ [Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That (261)]

worlds

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POSTCARD #97: Bangkok 06:00 hours: Heavy rain, the sound of it is hypnotic. M sits at the breakfast table, eyes glazed over and chewing in slow motion, falls into a dream in mid-chew and needs a gentle poke to remind her to keep going… not properly awake yet; this world emerging from the one before. Somebody says there’s no time left – got to go now. M holds up her watch to look at the time and beneath her raised elbow the plate is taken away to the kitchen sink, clink-ding, and all around there’s a kind of speeded-up blur of movement – things vanish, table top is wiped. M, still in the dream maybe, looking at her watch, unsticks it from where it’s gotten slightly adhered to skin; it’s a blue and yellow bubble-like kiddy object, I ask her if she is good at telling the time, she looks at the flower-patterned dial and thinks for a moment; I no can tell you Toong-Ting (her name for me)… meanwhile all around us, doors open and close, toilets flush and there’s a clatter of voices as the whole scene gets folded into itself and packed away… suitcases zipped up. It’s as if there are at least two versions of this particular reality running at the same time.

I ask M if she learned about telling the time in school; only the Thai way. I don’t know in English how to say… I’d forgotten about the Thai way of telling the time, of course, it’s a slightly different system [link], and I’m reminded there are other perceptions of the world that run parallel to the Western way. No time for discussion, we’re hustled out the door to the car that takes us to the airport – but unprepared for the huge puddle at the gate. M gets her feet wet as she’s climbing in the car, sits in the back with me, takes wet foot out of rubber slipper and asks me for a tissue; something to dry her feet with. I don’t have anything except for a crumpled one in my pocket; unfolding it carefully and she says, Did you sneeze in it Toong-Ting? I tell her no I didn’t; looks at it doubtfully… dries her foot.

The rest of the journey is about the car making its way through flooded areas and the sloshing sound beneath where we are sitting. M looking around wide-eyed, listening – there’s another world out there through the thin fabric of the vehicle… so near. All kinds of splashing but the rain doesn’t last long, we can see it starting to ease off and when we reach the airport there’s blue sky and sunshine, as if the rain had never happened.

Out of the car, and we have to say bye-bye to mummy who’s not coming, a hug and they’re a bit tearful. So there’s only us now but we’ve done this before, been on a few journeys together. Through the Xray, the check-in and into departures. We find two seats and M wants to use the iPad for her Minecraft… all kinds of apps with their sudden ringtones wake me up in the night reminding me they need to be upgraded. Sharing the iPad with M means I don’t get overly attached to it and when I do have access, there’s a sense of urgency; writing as in text-message minimalism. A lightness too, because being with a 10 year old who speaks English as a foreign language reduces gravity and the slow moving dinosaur of thinking about things for too long.

Shortly after that we’re boarding, the flight leaves on time and the great leap up… catapulted into the sky, 5 miles above the surface of the planet. M is quietly looking around, a discrete twirling and spinning of small head, checking out everything inside the aircraft and out through the window; fluffy clouds in a pale blue heaven realm – the world is a simulation, overlay upon overlay of illusions I feel I’m deeply familiar with…

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]

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prevalence of ritual

imagePOSTCARD#96: A village near Hat Yai: I’m at the wedding of my nephew in the South of Thailand, the only foreigner in the family… nothing for me to do in an event that’s complex and requires all kinds of engagement… mindfulness.  I just watch the proceedings, pleased with this sense of generosity in everybody just being here. I have M, my Thai niece with me and she corrects me if I get it wrong. We set off from the groom’s house in a long convoy of cars, a 20 minute drive, then stop on the highway and walk the last 200 yards along the path to the brides house. Musicians up front with Glong Yao drum, cymbals and reed pipe; an eerie, almost discordant kind of wailing song. I wonder how it must feel like for the bride, waiting in her childhood home, and here comes this haunting, archetypal sound of her future husband’s clan calling to her – getting nearer and nearer and louder and louder until it fills the small room she’s in. I’m thinking of tribal things, fertility rituals and magic that changes the course of karmic events. For me, there’s only this; the sense that the ceremony is heavy with meaning; perhaps too, something about belief I remember I used to think was real a long time ago.

The sad truth is that in the West, divorce is about as common as marriage – religion got deconstructed; the story we believed in came to pieces. No myth to feel connected with, except perhaps the myth of no-myth. In a sense, we’re all married to the economy, worship the consumer god, seek refuge, gratification, fulfillment and consolation in the purchase of goods and services. What’s left over after that, in terms of ‘belief, we have to figure out any way we can.

It’s different here, divorce is rare, maybe it’s the prevalence of ritual that – come what may – locks the marriage into this unbreakable bond. The marriage date is selected by an astrologer, taking into account all of the every-day catastrophes and natural disasters, about which most Western folk are happily unaware. Any begrudged spirits are appeased so that a date can be selected which is completely surrounded by joyful blessings and good fortune – the belief that the spiritual world is real is what causes it to be so. I feel like I’m watching a different movie, maybe more meaningful than the cultural movie we watch in the West, maybe I’m drawn towards this version more, now that 30 years have gone by – or maybe it’s too restricting for me and I’m on the outside looking in. Maybe that’s okay too.

Lengthy ceremonies for many hours, Buddhist monks chanting, holy markings made by an elder’s fingertips dipped in special paste and pressed lightly on their forehead, and a sacred cord sai monkonor is placed on their heads [see below]. They kneel with their arms on a decorative pillow, palms together in the ‘wai’ position, and family members take turns to pour water over their hands.

It was a long day for me sitting outside the house under this huge pink canopy. My niece M came to join me later, and I was facing away from the main group so I make a face of bored weariness for her and she laughs. Do the face again Toong Ting and I try to do it again, but can’t get it right. Do same face you do before Toong Ting! She insists. So I try all kinds of grotesque weird faces, a whole anthology of faces that go on and on until I’m thinking I’m going slightly mad, and she laughs a lot, but obviously tired. Somebody had to take her home. It was a long day for the couple too, when I saw them eventually, they looked exhausted, although the bride was strangely wide-eyed and alert – I was astonished, something about a kind of awareness that takes place at the end of something endless….

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‘The fact that we can never “fully know” reality is not a sign of the limitation of our knowledge, but the sign that reality itself is “incomplete,” open, an actualization of the underlying virtual process of Becoming.’ [Slavoj Zizek]

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The title of this post is taken from an anthogy of Romare Bearden collage artworks

a house in the trees

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POSTCARD#95: Fifty miles from Hat Yai: Exotic birdsong from the forest, it’s early morning and I’m hanging out the laundry on a washing line tied between trees… dogs bark, chickens scatter. Heavy rain all through the night but the days are usually bright and sunny. Then back in the house and there’s time to find an unoccupied bathroom. The house is crowded because today there’s a wedding; some people still sleeping, others preparing costumes, looking in mirrors. Everybody hoping it won’t rain… fragility of perfected hair styles, lacy gold costumes, and eye-liner painted like a work of art.

In a room upstairs I find M, my Thai niece, putting on makeup using the iPad screen, switched to front camera, a mirror-image unreversed… can this be what we really look like? And I’m thinking, do we have to have the mascara? She’s only 10 years old, spinning her head around like this, trying to see herself from the side. Wearing the face that’s seen by others, the glassy-eyed gaze that looked-at eyes have. It’s been four months since I’ve seen M and now here she is as a miniature adult, but still a child. She puts a piece of tissue in her mouth and holds it there: too mush lip sticks… English is a second language, I want to say it’s a non-countable noun, like air, it’s a mass noun – there’s only one lipstick in the world. But I don’t say that because it’s boring and she’d think I was starting a conversation about cosmetics.

garlandLet her get on with it, it’s a girl thing; I have to prepare myself too for the main event of the day. Not difficult, ironed shirt, combed hair, shoed, socked and I’m done; the only Caucasian in a guest list of more than one thousand, all of whom are all related in some way, including a local politician who goes around smiling at people. This is M’s family on the maternal side – on the paternal side she’s Taiwanese/Japanese… same old sad story about an absentee father. Everyone here is curious about her, they’re all of a oneness, share the same ancestral pathways – they even look like each other. They believe in all of this, a deep familiarity with the clan. The familial matrix, if there’s a question about the lineage, it’s addressed by an elder who can remember who was who in the old days, and the received knowledge. But most of them are shy to delve into it, just watch, observe, depend on each other for confirmation, looking at each other often, trying to see the familiarities – there is no individual ‘self, everything I see is ‘me’.

We’re all standing at the door, ready for the 7.30 am pickup of a multitude of people, and just as the minibuses start to arrive, M comes downstairs dressed in Thai costume. There’s a kind of collective gasp, she looks like a mystical being from the Deva realms. She carries it well, knows there’s something about her that holds the attention of the local people. Yet, this is her heritage, following the lineage of the old families. She tugs at my arm, pulls me down so she can whisper in my ear: can I borrow the iPad, Toong Ting? (it’s her name for me) A little uneasy about the naïve stares of these ordinary rural folk, and glad that I’m a bit of an oddity here too, so some of the staring will be deflected on to me. We agree that she can do her iPad activity as soon as I’ve taken all the photos of the wedding procession and I keep talking with her so she can be seen to be engaged with what I’m saying and that seems proper – quick sideways glance dodging between the eyebeams focussed on her, just to see who else is here, then back into her pose of averted gaze.  We are in the first minibus, get in the front seat behind the driver, and the whole convoy moves off, following the musicians…
[to be continued]

“Every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos looks out.” [Alan Watts]

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Lower photo shows reflection of M in the rear-view mirror as the minibus follows the musicians in the pickup truck, leading the procession

interconnectedness

photo-3POSTCARD#94: Chiang Mai: I’ve been without my computer for about two weeks now. When I tell people this they’re shocked; but how are you able to… I mean, survive without the internet? This is it exactly, no words to describe it; grief, loss, mourning. It’s like somebody died and the world just moves on regardless. The empty space in the middle of the desk where the computer used to be is gradually becoming a convenient place to put things; a cup of coffee, a book, odds and ends – it’s returning to the original ‘desktop’ state (no metaphor intended). I write with a pen on lined paper in an actual ‘notebook’. Back to the basics… oil lamps and candles, I want to live in a cottage in the forest, grow vegetables, chop wood. But instead of that I’m in Chiang Mai City and have convinced myself that walking two miles every day (there and back) to a nice Internet cafe is good exercise.

Heavy urban traffic, often no pavement at all and obstructions like a temporary structure, fried chicken vendor/street food cooking place set up in the pedestrian area – getting the customers’ attention – I have to negotiate with the environment to get through. Cooking smells and traffic hazards, locked-in loving-kindness in conscious mind is necessary. Mindfulness is necessary in order to not be flattened by a passing cement truck. This is the developing world, Asian cultural behaviour just allows it to happen, everything in close proximity to everything else. Take a photo of the hundreds of cables slung between poles I think are phone lines. Connectedness, the true meaning of the term, extended family; people have to have contact with each other all the time. There’s no such thing as overcrowding, it has always, always been like this.

In pre-modern times perception was more associated with the narrative, the story by-word-of-mouth about how it all came to be like this. Now it’s a different kind of reality, a reality without a myth – or a myth that evolved over time to include the social order mechanism, television, and now it disincludes the Godman, the DIY awakening factor – don’t be too concerned about that folks, the Centre of Worship is doing it on your behalf. Not so, here in Asia, that uneasy feeling in the core of my being cannot be filled with some kind of truly invasive commercial product. It’s not a ‘hunger’ aroused by created opportunities we are encouraged to keep seeking. It’s a received knowing that extends through all and everything, a kind of interconnectedness that’s always there, an awareness of the uncountable cells in an organism and multiple organisms within organisms – all of it.

Out of the street and into the cool interior of the Internet cafe. Nice people say hello as I find my place. Log in and download the text file I sent from my phone earlier in the day. Having no computer at home means I have to write my posts using the phone keyboard one-fingeredly and awkward, but learning how to develop skills in defeating the spellchecker that goes around changing all the words unasked-for. Something interesting arises in the engagement with it; having to invent solutions to problems I’m not immediately familiar with. Intuitive reaching must be something I have learned through living with local people in Asian countries for more than thirty years; trying to understand the world as seen through their eyes.

An aloneness, maybe… it motivates this reaching out. ‘The internet is an extended sense organ’, all known bloggers in the world scattered around in their geographical locations, but really all contained in conscious awareness – we couldn’t be anywhere else! I can’t see you, or hear you. I can’t touch you and will never ‘meet’ you in the normal sense of the word, I just know you’re there, or here inside me, or where we all are… curious how it’s the awareness of loving-kindness that activates it.

‘… Not a single particle out “there” exists with real properties until it’s observed… reality is a process that involves consciousness.’ [Robert Lanza]

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The internet is an extended sense organ,’ from a comment by Michael in the post titled ‘grounded‘ Excerpts from other comments included here.
- G R A T I T U D E -

loving-kindness for the unloved

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POSTCARD#93: Chiang Mai: Nine-o’clock-in-the-morning rush downtown in a tuktuk, traffic is okay, no hold-up at the lights, one large swerve to the right and it’s a long straight run to the mall building where I’m headed – have to pay a phone bill, overdue for four months and they disconnected me. Sorry about that… ah well, they probably figured I was out of the country, no problem, I’d be back eventually. Foreigners (farangs) mix with the population here like benign extraterrestrials, disappear sometimes then reappear later.

Tuktuk takes me right into the mall car park, jump out, pay the driver and there are steps straight down into the basement arcade. Ask the lady there at Information for directions to the phone place and set off in the direction she indicates… can’t find it, searching and searching, it’s not there. So I go into  this other phone place and ask them if they know where the place I’m looking for is. Oh, they say, this is the place, you’re in it – yes, we changed the name, you see… laughter. Fine, okay, and I’m not sure if I’m happy, or a bit upset about it – what’s going on here? Have a quick look around; everybody wearing turquoise and lime green costumes to match the same colour-coordinated interior and huge logo above our heads. A total makeover, new look with pale pigmented, cosmetic faces of little women who smile all the time.

So this seems to be very welcoming, I give my number over at the desk and it takes a moment to realise I’m not talking to a woman but it’s a small man, not overtly feminized, but wearing orange lipstick and disconcerting dental brace — smiles open-mouthed and giggles… going for the orthodontic barbed-wire look. Some caution required here, these effeminate guys can be a bit bitchy, but he (she) is okay, self-effacing, small gestures, acting the part, making a thing out of not being able to speak English, and doesn’t hear when I reply in Thai. The upset feeling I was having is gone when I contemplate this example of the human condition. Compassion for what that must be like. The gist of it, though, is that they need to have my passport, and I didn’t bring it. There’s no way they can do this without a passport, sollee na kha (uses feminine gender honorific).

What to do? No point in getting upset, this is Thailand, nobody gets upset, if there’s any difficulty, it just goes into slo-mo and everybody is really, really careful… the tension in the air like a wine glass about to shatter when the violinist plays exactly the right high-pitched note in resonant frequency. And structural integrity gives way, POP!… but it doesn’t usually get that far – just prolonged holding. I can feel an accumulation of negativity – something unloved beginning to appear at the edge of my vision, gives me a poke in the ribs, Hey! Yeh, been here before; the aversion is about ‘me’ struggling to accept the reality of it being there. Accept it, allow it in to conscious awareness, let it be there… but I’m still struggling with it. It’s the thought I have to go back for my passport – but it’s about registration, that’s all, it’s normal, should be easy enough.

It’s somewhere around here that I realise I’m concocting this whole scenario based on an attached memory of things that aren’t very lovable – I can’t love that thing; unlovable, unloved. Kinda hopeless and childish, but I can have loving-kindness mettā for the feeling that I can’t do it; loving-kindness for my resistance to loving the unloved. Walk back along the corridor, up the steps and out across the car park, there’s a tuktuk. Tell the driver where to go and we’re speeding back up the way I came, slow down at the lights wide turn left and soon back at the apartment. Jump out, ask the driver to wait, into the building, up in the lift, in. Get the passport, down again and we’re off back downtown again, wide turn right after the lights, and a straight run back to the mall.

Back to the turquoise and  lime green renovated place and by this time things have woken up a bit, more people, more staff than customers. The ‘person’ with the dental work and orange lipstick greets me like an old friend. We get the paperwork done in about a minute and I’m out. Texting everybody to say hello: Hi, yes I’m here in Chiang Mai and it’s good to be back.

‘By reminding ourselves to have metta for the feelings we experience – not thinking about them or analysing them but going to the place in the body itself, to the mental quality, really embracing that – really being willing to feel those particular emotions, they become bearable. By changing our attitude to one of acceptance rather than of rejection, to interest, rather than just wanting to get rid of them, we find that they are things we can tolerate. Then they cease on their own, for all conditions are impermanent.’ ['Universal Loving Kindness' by Ajahn Sumedho, Forest Sangha Newsletter, October 1997, Number 42]

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loving-kindness for the critical mind

Chmai arrivalPOSTCARD#92: Chiang Mai: Writing this on the iPhone keyboard, shadowy index finger blocks out the whole letter. The letters ‘O’ and ‘P’ are difficult, I try to type ‘M’ and hit the backspace instead. Requires a certain kind of patience… it’s amazing what you can do if you have to. My computer is with the technician — went there immediately after arriving in Chiang Mai Tuesday morning. A red-eye flight from Delhi, only three and a half hours, no time to sleep – watching videos all night. Arrive in Bangkok at 5.30 am, a huge commercial project, the bright lights and glitz of 24/7 enhanced shopping experience. Passengers from all parts of the world gather at the domestic terminal lounge — we all wear a yellow transit sticker on the lapel — everybody having spent the night in an aircraft, bleary-eyed and hypnotised by inflight videos.

Then dispersed on different domestic flights North, South, East, West, and I arrive in Chiang Mai at 9.15am, a bit bewildered in the daylight of the arrival hall. Waiting for my bag… waiting, and waiting, but it doesn’t come. All the other bags have gone and now there’s just the belt itself moving round. Where’s my bag? My small volume of clothes folded flat, papers, books, computer cables zipped up tight, X-rayed and pushed into its space in the aircraft baggage. WHERE is it? My bag is ‘me’ an assembled ID, a costumed and shoed, hair-combed identikit. This is who ‘I’ am!

Man in uniform comes along, competent, in-charge attitude; looks at me over his glasses and asks to see my luggage tag number. He takes it to his desk, studies his document for a moment and makes a call (I’m watching him at his desk), comes back and informs me my bag was not loaded on the plane and it’s still in transfer at Bangkok… pause, he looks me in the eye, assessing my capacity for patience. Please write your address here and we will deliver it later today. His demeanour tells me he knows about this problem; he also knows how to handle worn-out passengers living in a video world. There’s an empathy and ease about his movements. Maybe he used to be a monk, a Maha Thera, all men in Thailand become monks for a short time. Some for a long time.

Meanwhile, I’m standing there like a satellite dish antenna pointed at the sky, receiving the signal, interpreting data – how should I respond to this devastating news? Make a huge scene? No, let’s not do that, long inhalation of in-breath, relaxed release of the out-breath. Man in uniform still waiting for a reply… there’s  something quiet and easy about him. Just looking at me… calm eyes, one eyebrow lifted slightly, as if to say, is that going to be okay with you sir? Inner well-being, and there’s a feeling that, yes, it could be okay. Even if I did get upset, it still means my bag is not here, and having to wait for it anyway.

He walks me over to his desk and holds the form in the centre of my vision, finger pointing at a space where I’m supposed to sign my name. Is this the no-responsibility waiver? Am I signing away all my rights? Everything written in Thai, do I have to get my dictionary out? Oh no, it’s in the bag. Sign it, sign it! Thank you very much, bye-bye, nice man. Walk away to the taxi area with no bag, no trolley, hands free, hands in pockets, hands swinging by my side as I walk. Get to the apartment, shower and dress up in a bizarre arrangement of light cotton beach-wear. Fall asleep on the sofa for two hours, then the doorbell goes ping-pong, it’s my bag delivered and rolling in on its wheels, just like the man said.

‘… have loving-kindness for your dislike of the way it is, so you are not even criticizing yourself for being critical… Even if you are sitting here hating yourself, thinking of yourself as selfish and critical and not a very nice person, you can have metta for that; you can have loving-kindness for the critical mind.” [Ajahn Sumedho, ' Liberating Emotions']

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grounded

Rooftop2POSTCARD #91: Delhi: The laptop crashed. Not once, many times. I had to take it to the technician and he said he wasn’t sure if he could fix it but anyway it would take a few days. Doesn’t speak English well, confusion, then there was the weekend too, another two days to wait and see, catastrophic feeling arising: Oh no! There’s something wrong, it feels like an illness, a kind of death; ‘All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become separated from me.’ I’m offline, the blogging world goes sailing by and I’m marooned on a desert island. Standing on the beach waving, shouting, jumping up and down, trying to get the attention of passing ships but they don’t see me. What to do? Sit at the desk among all the unplugged cables where the computer used to be. Write with a pen on a pad of paper – doodle and draw pictures instead. No focus in my life, no screen to look at. No need to be at the desk… why am I sitting here?

Rooftop5Get up and walk around; phone in pocket, go upstairs and walk on the roof terrace. It’s a sort of walking meditation path, jongkrom. Up and down, thirty five paces from end to end. Fifteen-hundred paces equal one mile, I need to walk the path 42 times to cover a mile – quite often I lose count and forget… the mind wanders. Basic mindfulness is about remembering what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Returning to the action itself, looking at the feet touching the earth one by one: left then right. The human body, this place I inhabit; it seems strange. I was a child once, learning to walk. How did it feel? Getting myself up here in the vertical position, stumble and fall – world goes sideways, get up again, walk… fall down. Try again, learning how to live my life. Seeing it all through the eyes of a person called ‘me’, a localised experience in a world of fifty million square miles of land space to walk on, and one of seven billion people on the planet. I’m the guy in the street; the ‘you’, the ‘me’. I am a single cell in an organism so vast it’s inconceivable.

Thirty five paces to the end, turn around and walk back. The brick floor looks like an abstract painting, take some photos, back to the walking. How does it feel? This sensation of stepping out from the past into the future but never getting there. Always in transit, housed in a kind of wobbly, thud-thud-thud, rubberoid, physical experience of present time that’s just rolling along. Awareness sees the ground spinning towards each foot like a treadmill driven by my walking… hamster in its spinning wheel. A fun thing to do, hamster’s idea of meditation. Everything happens in the movement towards a place I think I’m going; an arrival point that’s one among many, fixed end to end and disappearing into the perspective. I am the vanishing point; no beginning, no end, always only a part of the continuum. The seed sprouting from the earth is not how the story began, there was another tree before that…

Phone rings, Hello? It’s Jiab saying she’s on the way home with a laptop borrowed from the office. Relief floods through me – aware of the craving; that which is always seeking engagement. I understand what attachment is, so good to see it like this. I’m glad the laptop was taken away… glad too that another one is coming back. The walking has a new kind of ease. Electrical energy of Mind is grounded through footsteps touching the earth.

‘The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving. Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end. Each step is life; each step is peace and joy. That is why we don’t have to hurry. That is why we slow down. We seem to move forward, but we don’t go anywhere; we are not drawn by a goal. Thus we smile while we are walking.’ [Thich Nhat Hanh]

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9/11/2014 “the big lie”

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A Buddhist Reflection: I’m trying to find a way to write this post to fit with how I’ve been writing it these last two years [2013 and 2012] and not get caught up in the greater catastrophe that 9/11 has become in the 13 years since it happened. It’s impossible to think about the event and not include the possibility that there’s more to this than meets the eye. The realization weighs heavily on us. The sadness and grieving now is that the big lie is here, situated amongst the ordinary things in our world; lives being lived, sleeping, eating, busy with work, women bearing children, raising families, birth and death.

‘… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.’ [Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X]

The big lie needs to be brought into the light where it can be seen clearly because the tendency is for things that look like they should be hidden to stay hidden. So many things hidden and nothing revealed in the official 9/11 investigation in 13 years, except that it’s been proved there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, Osama bin Laden was captured, killed and body thrown in the sea. The parallel ‘Truth’ investigation, however, continues to come up with more and more scientific evidence revealing the big lie. It’s this that has convinced me I need to know more about what really happened, painful though it may be. Yesterday I spent 5 hours looking at the video: September 11 – the new Pearl Harbour. It’s in three parts (link below) and if you watch it, you’ll come out the other end a different person.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DOnAn_PX6M

Whether the truth comes out or not, or to what extent, is not as important as dealing with the strong possibility of it being true. What effect does that have on me, how do I feel about it? The following is an excerpt from, ‘A Buddhist Reflection on the Tragedy of September 11’ by Ajahn Jayasaro, published in 2001:

“As Buddhists, we devote ourselves to learning how to maintain clarity of mind, fundamental compassion and intelligence, as a constant inner refuge. It is not so difficult to be clear about issues which don’t personally affect us, or those which provoke no strong feelings. The real challenge is to be awake even in the midst of a hurricane of emotions — when we are hurt and betrayed, angry and afraid. Clarity of mind means that when things get rough we can still receive the blessings of the principles we uphold. Inner clarity is thus the ground in which the dignity and meaning of life can grow.

An inner refuge does not come easily. It can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing commitment to this life education, a training of the way we live internally and externally. Buddhist teachings are seen then, in summary, not as dogmas to be believed in (or rejected), but tools to be made use of. We use the teachings to understand ourselves and our experiences in life, to understand other people and the world we live in. Then basing ourselves on that understanding, we seek to create as much authentic happiness and benefit for ourselves and others as we can.”

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Source for header image: Rob Clark/Institute – From my roof on 9-11

 

ordinary miracles

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POSTCARD #90: Delhi: Now it’s September and there’s been some proper rain, temperatures have started to drop. Wonderful, no need to have the AC running, I go around the house in the morning when it’s not raining and open every single door and window that’ll open. Screen doors closed to stop the insects but fresh air passes though, enters into these enclosed spaces where only the Hoover has refreshed the air for so long. Indoor plants sway in the breeze for the first time since June. Glass doors to the garden are pushed back on their hinges – so widely open it feels like outside is ‘in’, or inside is ‘out’… I don’t know which. The walled garden that used to be situated ‘out there’ is now a contained part of my room ‘in here’. The roof is the sky; birds fly through and inhabit my world.

Playing a music track on the speakers, and why does it sound so different? It’s because it’s echoing through the open doors, into the new acoustics created by the walled garden, the space by which my room as been extended. And what’s this? I’d forgotten about the sounds from the neighbourhood; people chatting on the other side of the fence, a phone rings: “hello?” Somebody somewhere, banging with a hammer. A shout, a barking dog. A Hindu ceremony far away – maybe a wedding. I hear reed instruments with drums – it must be on the other side of the park. Sounds carry a sense of location, near and far; the distance I’m aware of measures my world. I can explain this in terms of sound frequency, wind direction, but that’s not it. The experience itself is more than can be accounted for in words. When I become aware of something larger than I can find a reason for, it becomes a miracle. Science says there are no miracles, explains it all away by means of technical descriptions; telling us, the uninformed, that this is how a miracle works – yeh, but it’s still a miracle, isn’t it? Butterflies in the rain, (Sue Vincent’s Post)

It reminds me of the bell. A long time ago I lived in Japan. For three years, I had the top floor of a simple house in the grounds of Zuisenji Temple, high up on a cliff face near Kamakura. It was completely quiet there of course and I became acclimatised to the silence of the place. Except that sometimes the monks would ring the large bell… a horizontal pole suspended on chains swings over and hits the bell DONG! I’d be at home, alone in my house down below, sitting in my chair reading a book and WOW! this extraordinary sound suddenly hits the atmosphere. Jump with the shock of it; the acoustics – not the loudness… the pitch, deep and resonating, something from the 14th Century is suddenly intimately present in my small space… staggered by the closeness of it.

yun_13781For the duration of that one chime, the sound had presence, it entered the rooms immediately and was everywhere at the same time. Then an indefinite period before the next one – waiting to see… but maybe it’ll not ring this time – and then it happens just as I’m thinking it’s not going to. Pause, turning the page in my book: DONG! Same thing, heart-attack stuff, a curious presence of sound, an event that extends beyond hearing; more than something just felt, almost seen… can’t be explained, a miracle.

Held by the memory of it, fixed in that time and I discover I’m not there at all, I’m here in Delhi, more than twenty years have passed unnoticed, hair has turned white, sitting by the glass doors looking at the rain and not seeing anything…

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” [Thích Nhất Hạnh]

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G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E
Sue Vincent for her post Butterflies in the rain’, which helped inspire this post. Upper photo by Sushil Kumar Verma, The Hindu Newspaper 02/Sep/2014.  Lower photo: Zuisenji temple bell photo source: http://www.yunphoto.net/en/