Lay awake last night and spent some time looking at how I go about experiencing the thouight flitting back and forth in my mind, the fleeting emotional storms and body sensations. Hot, cold, anxious, feverish, tense, angry, sad.
I could have sat up in meditation position and do some breathwork but I wanted to get back to sleep. Today is going to be a very long day with the trip to Heathrow and a flight back to South Africa leaving at 9pm.
Because I worked for several years with a Theravada practitioner, there are many ways of paying attention in Buddhist practice that make sense to me. While drinking I could not implement even the simplest technique because the excess drinking inflamed my mind and prevented detachment. Now it is possible (sometimes) for me to recognise the patterns of thinking and the difficulty of staying in the present.
There is as little point regretting the past as speculating about the future. Conditioned responses are just that. Anger, ignorance and greed. The fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz wrote: “The mind is ever a tourist wanting to touch and buy new things, then toss them into an already-filled closet.”
Just paying bare attention changes the feelings. This is my restless mind at 2am. This is the ‘self’ suffering, being distracted, feeling fear and regret and loss. This is the mind circling the same preoccupations and trying to avoid the feelings. This is the mind being impatient. The feelings come up and fall away. What stays is the intention to observe quietly and just be with the thoughts, letting them come and go.
When I can’t pray, can’t sleep, feel at the mercy of my own moods I can at least pay attention. And at last there is inner quiet and the chance of renewed sleep. No great insights, no transfornations. Just the tiredness and drifting back to sleep.
It is a cloudy and cold morning. All I have to do is pack and get ready for the airport. Nothing to do and nothing left undone. The pain is there but it is fine. It is not unbearable.
Tomorrow morning I will be landing in Cape Town. A friend there to meet me. There will be a long drive back through the mountains, a cold spring just beginning in the Cape, and when I get home I shall be able to sleep in my own bed. Then I shall begin piecing my life together again. One day at a time.