Chapter 24: Glorious Pain

Awakening to the Suchness of Things

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As we drive to Singapore from Malacca:

Me: “Malaysia was pretty amazing, wasn’t it?”

Miranda: “I wish we could’ve stayed in Malacca longer.”

Laurie: “It reminded me of Santa Barbara in some ways. Maybe the Portuguese influence. A little slower paced. More vegetation.”

Serena: “I liked the little bike-powered carriages, which were covered with flowers, even thought they were artificial. But I liked Thailand better.”

Me: “Really? Why was that? Malaysia certainly wasn’t as corrupt as Thailand.”

Serena: “Yes there was no evidence of prostitution in The little bit of Malaysia that we saw on our 3 day guided tour.”

Me: “But Bangkok has an international reputation for an ‘anything goes’ attitude.”

Serena: “True, but I still liked Thailand better - the food, the temples, the music.”

Me: “But we didn’t hear any music in Malaysia.”

Serena: “My point exactly. The Thais made it a point to expose us to their music, their dance and their art - not just their tourist attractions.”

Laurie: “Everything about Thailand was colorful.”

Miranda: “Their gold plated temples - Thai massage then shark’s fin and bird’s nest soup.”

Me: “Mmmm.”

Serena: “The Thais would never have taken us to such a low caliber restaurants like the first Chinese restaurant we had dinner at when we arrived in Malaysia.”

Laurie: “The one with mold growing out of the toilet with no seat and no paper.”

Serena: “That’s the one. Unforgettable.”

Miranda: “What a first impression. I’m glad I was sick.”

Me: “One of the worst bathrooms I’ve ever seen. Leaking toilets with water on the floor and cracked tile.”

Laurie: “Right up with your bachelor toilet before I moved in.”

Me: “ Hey, wait a minute. At least ours had a lid on it.”

Laurie: “Other than that they were the same.”

Serena: “Shifting topics. I remember when we were taking our traditional afternoon swim in the hotel pool in Pataya you asked us …”

Me: “Have you ever been enlightened to the suchness of things. And if so when?”

Miranda: “The suchness of things?”

Me: “Right. A sense of contentment with your place in the Universe accompanied with the realization that everything that has happened is perfect because they all led up to this particular moment. Anyone had this realization?”

Laurie: “Just being with my family makes me feel that way.”

Miranda: “Ask me after I’ve moved from Santa Barbara. But traveling certainly helps.”

Serena: “I remember the feeling of needing to escape the hometown. But I felt the ‘suchness of things’ - as you call it - when we were walking to the tour bus after breakfast on that first morning in Bangkok.”

Laurie: “I remember that morning.”

Serena: “Nothing special to look at - just smelling sweltering hot muggy Bangkok - with you, Mom and Miranda - all of us together. A moment of perfection.”

Laurie: “That tropical weather. I love it.”

Miranda: “That was a nice time. Dank, moist, sticky rather than so dry, like at home.”

Glorious Pain

As we’re still slowly swimming lengths in the pool on another muggy day in Southeast Asia.

Me: “I was still a bit shaky from the plane ride. What a transformational experience that was.”

Laurie: “I was worried about you.”

Serena and Miranda: “So were we.”

Laurie: “How are you doing now?”

Me: “I’m not looking forward to the flight home but I’m fine right now. I feel as if I’m in the eye of the hurricane.”

Serena: “The flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur wasn’t too good?”

Me: “Not really. But it was better than the flight to Bangkok. At least I wasn’t about to pass out from the pain. God bless modern medicine.”

Miranda: “Whadaya mean?”

Me: “I took your advice and took 4 Advil about a half an hour before taking off.”

Laurie: “That helped?”

Me: “Yeah, my head felt like it was about to explode, but at least I didn’t feel nauseous or like I was about to lose consciousness.”

Miranda: “Still pretty bad though.”

Me: “It was much worse and much longer on the first flight. I was wondering if I was going to die.”

Laurie: “What about the flight home?”

Me: “I’m just enjoying the moment with my lovely daughters and wife. If I die on the way home from brain hemorrhaging, I have no regrets. I have looked Death in the face and embraced him. If the Universe is done with me, then so be it. I’ve done my best.”

Laurie: “I don’t like it when you talk like that.”

Me: “Actually it was an incredible experience. Humbling, but incredible.”

Miranda: “Why do you say that?”

Serena: “Don’t get him started.”

Laurie: “Just keep it brief.”

Me: “I’m not afraid of Pain or Death anymore.”

Serena: “Yeah right. I’m supposed to believe that.”

Me: “At least in this context. But I feel free - light - like I could soar like a bird.”

Serena: “And why perchance?”

Me: “I’ve been feeling these pains in the sinus cavity above my left eye for some time now.”

Laurie: “Really? How long?”

Me: “They started about a month before we left.”

Laurie: “Why didn’t you go to the doctor?”

Me: “The pain was pretty mild and only occurred briefly when I was diving in the pool.”

Laurie: “When did it intensify?”

Me: “Just before we left.”

Laurie: “How soon?”

Me: “It became real intense just after I started taking the penicillin that the doctor prescribed as a precautionary measure in case I had strep throat. That’s why I stopped taking it. I think it was aggravating my sinus cavity.”

Laurie: “When was that?”

Me: “I was in total pain just driving home from Tai Chi the night before we left. Especially as I ascended into the foothills above our house.”

Laurie: “Sounds like it has something to do with pressure.”

Me: “Most definitely. Even driving to LA from Santa Barbara was excruciating. Going over those hills was really difficult for me.”

Laurie: “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Me: “There was nothing you could do. I didn’t want to alarm anyone.”

Serena: “How are you now?”

Me: “On something all the time.”

Miranda: “Why is that?”

Me: “If I don’t take an Advil about every six hours, the pain starts to grow until it is debilitating.”

Laurie: “Why is that?”

Me: “I don’t know why. I just know that.”

Serena: “How?”

Me: “I’ve experimented. I even found that if I let the pain come on too long that it’s harder to get it to leave. I might even need to take more Advil to kill the pain.”

Miranda: “That’s known as pain management.”

Laurie: “How did you know that?”

Miranda: “First hand experience. Sometimes I can ward off a migraine if I anticipate and medicate it before it happens. If I wait too long, then the growing head pain must run its devastating cycle.”

Me: “Your Grandma’s gene pool.”

Serena: “She was also bipolar.”

Laurie: “And prone to depression.”

Miranda: “Thanks a lot, Dad.”

Me: “We’re all in it together - my curse too. She was also very creative - and loving too. Just a little too sensitive for her own good.”

Serena: “Pain and pleasure in equal measure.”

Me: “Exactly. That’s what I discovered first hand. The excruciating agony of the plane ride followed by the intense joy of recovery and being together as a family in Thailand.”

Miranda: “Yes, the excitement of this trip balanced by the misery of high school.”

Laurie: “I hope it’s not that bad.”

Miranda: “Worse.”

Serena: “The torture of all night cramming followed by a deep sense of accomplishment.”

Me: “Anyway as my head pain grew prior to our departure from LAX, it began reminding me of the throbbing pain on our last trip to Southeast Asia. I began imagining that I was going to die of a brain aneurysm or that I was going to have a stroke like my Grandfather or that my head was going to explode. At first I was afraid. But I didn’t want to ruin the trip for everyone. Then in an instant I accepted whatever fate the Universe had in store for me. That was the first stage of my transformation.”

Laurie: “What was the next?”

Me: “As we ascended in the air at first there was only minimal pain, but then it started growing. I tried everything - swallowing, blowing out my cheeks, but nothing worked. The pressure in my head grew so much that I didn’t know if I was going to retain consciousness. Then I became nauseous. But I didn’t want to alarm anyone, because there was nothing that could be done.”

Serena: “It didn’t work. We knew you were sick because you weren’t eating.”

Laurie: “Sounds miserable.”

Me: “It was. Then we landed in Taiwan and the pain went away. I was grateful, but then as the plane took off for Bangkok the throbbing agony began to grow. Again I almost lost consciousness. But I had survived the first bout of pain. I somehow knew that I had taken the worst. This sense that I was going to survive mitigated the debilitating pressure on my forehead. It actually bruised my skin. It is sore there even if I’m not feeling any pain.”

Miranda: “Trying to hide it didn’t work. You should have let us comfort you.”

Me: “I try to be invisible. I don’t want to bother anyone.”

Laurie: “It doesn’t work. We were all disturbed anyway.”

Serena: “We would rather know.”

Me: “Sorry about that. But then we landed in Bangkok and the pain went away. I was so grateful that I had survived. Although my legs were wobbly and my mind rattled, I was still all in one piece with my brain intact. I had accepted an exploding brain as part of my fate, but the Universe spared me an untimely death. I was so grateful that I wanted to kiss the ground.”

Miranda: “You’re so melodramatic.”

Serena: “As are we all, except Mom.”

Me: “Comes with the genes. I faced the firing squad and survived. But it wasn’t like I had gotten wounded in battle. The Emperor had just scared me to bring me to my senses.”

Miranda: “Like Dostoyevsky.”

Me: “I needed that experience to humble my wisdom. I didn’t really understand pain at all. I thought foolishly that wisdom transcended pain. All my wisdom was nothing in the face of this mental agony. All I could think of was the pain. It had gone beyond my limit. I was on my knees before it. The arrogance of my mind was bowing before physical pain - realizing him to be the Master. And I was so grateful.”

Serena: “But you still have moments?”

Me: “Daily unless I take my medicine. But that’s another thing I’m grateful for. I discovered that the medicine works - even getting me a little high.”

Miranda: “Dad, you’re always getting high.”

Laurie: “Are you worried about the return trip.”

Me: “Not at all. It suddenly hit me that this is life. You come into the world and they spank you. You start crying and then breathing. Pain at the beginning of life. Then you live. Then at the end you die. If you spend your time worrying about the end you ruin your life. In such a way I don’t worry about the trip home - my death. Instead I just focus on the Journey. Being with my lovely family. Here now. Really the only place to be.”

Laurie: ““Sharing these wonderful times together.”

Me: “This is why I am so grateful for the pain. It sharpened my pleasure. Deepening my potential to experience life’s agony heightened my potential to experience life’s joy. I am so grateful.”

Miranda: “You’re just high.”

The Now and Intoxication, A family conversation

It was our last evening in Bangkok. Presumably we were to fly out of Thailand the following morning to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Tour Guide: “There will be a slight delay. The plane won’t leave until noon tomorrow. You’ll be on your own in the morning. But don’t worry there will be someone to accompany you to the airport.”

Grumble – Grumble.

“It’s time to settle up. At $5 per day that’s $25 per person.”

Getting irritated: “5 days? But we arrived at midnight of the first day and we are leaving tomorrow morning on the 5th day with no tour.”

“But there have been two of us.”

“But she doesn’t speak English. It’s not our fault that your company fouled up.”

“It’s just a number.”

She taunts me with my own words.

Internally: “”It’s not fair. They were only with us for 3 days and they are charging us for 5. <Grumble> - <Grumble> - <Rage> - <Irritation> - And finally <Acquiescence> as I see the logic behind her comment. “It is just a number.” – “But it’s not right. It’s the principle, not the actual money.” – “But it’s just a number. And where does principle lead? Disaster.” I continue ranting internally as I meekly pay them the $100 for their services, as there are 4 of us at $25 per person.

Still tweaked we head back to our hotel room. “I can’t believe they charged us for 5 days. There were only with us for 3. Exploited – Taken advantage of - I should register a complaint.” And so on and so forth.

Back in the hotel I light up a joint. “Ahh! Mmmm!” My altitude begins to change. “Who cares about that number anyway? I’m here with my family in Bangkok at a luxury hotel in the heart of the city in the midst of a marvelous vacation.”

Elevated and rosy-eyed I stroll out to meet the family at the pool. Now this is no ordinary pool. Although small there are multiple levels – as one pool feeds into the next. We look over the edge onto the night-lights of the capital of Thailand. As one who is poor with words my description cannot capture the majesty and serenity of the setting.

Sitting on the top 0ool with my wife and daughters:

“Thank God for pot. It shows he loves us.”

“I prefer an unadorned Reality.”

“Yeah. What’s the matter with that?”

“Nothing. Sometimes it just needs to be lightened up.”

“But why can’t you just take it as it is?”

“Too intense.”

“Enjoy the intensity.”

“It’s too easy to get lost in insane side tracks. Look at al the carnage and mutilation that we humans regularly wreck upon each other in the name of Reality.”

“You’re shifting topics. Why do you need to escape from Reality with your drug habit.”

“I do love a good Advil.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Reality - Schmeality. What does it consist of anyway?”

“It’s certainly not contained in a drug induced high.”

“An unnecessary distortion.”

“Yeah, Dad. That’s an escape from Reality.”

If you haven’t guessed yet, my 3 women are charter members of the Women’s Temperance League.

“Let me put it this way. Earlier in the evening I was incredibly aggravated at having to pay our guides for 5 days when they were only with us for three. But now, thanks to a little puff of the magic Herb, I‘m feeling quite ecstatic here with my lovely ladies in this gorgeous setting in such an exotic environment.”

“Bu t why couldn’t you do without for a change.”

“Same setting.

“Same family.”

“I can’t say why – only that.”

 

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