a kid again

Being a Peace Corps volunteer, so far, has been like being given the opportunity to be a kid again.

Remember those lazy days of summer, nothing to do. Maybe your cousin is staying with you and you two pal around together, doing nothing in particular, yet making sure that every chance you get to stand behind a wall to then jump out the scare your companion, you do it and later spend time thinking about how to improve upon your scare tactics. Remember swimming in the summer heat, perhaps in a concrete pool, perhaps in a blow-up pool, lackadaisically splashing around, attempting to float, doing hand stands, making silly jumps into the pool. Sometimes you just float there. Sometimes you grab the goggles from the deck and explore the pool’s depths, imagining an ocean of treasures on its blank surface.

Not only do these endless days of nothing bring me back to childhood, but my presence as a foreigner in a country of generous people, makes me the prime suspect for being a child: people feed me, check in on me, make sure I’ve had enough food, teach me new words, insist that I need to eat more food, hold my hand when I walk across a busy street, buy me even more food.

Today, I finally learned how to take public transportation by myself into the city, and I did need my hand held like a child in order to learn it.

The Thai public transport system is extensive, yet haphazard. You really gotta be in the know to know, ya know?

I learned that to catch a Song-Taew from my house, you need to stand along the highway of cars and semi-trucks speeding at 80 km/h, to pick out a small blue pick-up truck that should come by every half hour, but there’s no concrete timetable, and has, somewhere in written in Thai, the destination location written in tiny white script impossible to see from afar and you wave the correct one down and wait for it to slow from 80 to 0 real quick so that you can jump into the back of an open-aired, covered, 2 bench pick-up with no seat-belts and start on your way, yet when you want to stop, if the bell doesn’t work, you can use a coin to rap on the metal rods above your head and the driver will hear you above the din of the creaking motor and the zooming highway to pull over.

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And that was only the first of 3 different vehicles to arrive at the final destination.

Today, I learned this route along with my fellow compadre, Non-Don. Both of us will be expected to take this route alone in the future, me to get to the buses that can transport me down south to Phuket, Krabi and other exotic destinations, and Non-Don to get to school in Phunphin.

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Non-Don is a 12-year old boy, nephew of my host family, who is now living with us because he will be attending school in Surat Thani. His family is back in Trang, his mom, older sister and younger brother, living in a smaller, rural community. While his sister cannot leave her mom to do all the household chores and the younger brother is too young to leave his mom’s side, Don has been chosen to live with this aunt and uncle and go to a good city school.

Today, Don admitted to me he was scared to start his new school – new city, new expectations, new friends. I told him I was scared too; soon I would be entering a school to teach English to new faces, experienced teachers and old systems.

We didn’t talk much after this exchange of confidences, both of us quietly gazing out the open bus windows, wondering where the winds of change would lead us.

After sharing a table or two at the Swensen’s with a shy 14 year old girl Kit-Tah, Non-Don’s cousin, to eat our own ice cream delights (Non-Don did not partake because he self-described himself as fat), I wandered the mall with these two youngsters and privately reminisced on all of the countless hours I spent roaming mall floors at their ages, dropped off by my parents, fantasizing about material items and on the look out for cute boys exiting the cinema.

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As we sat waiting for Non-Don’s aunt, my host mom, to finish her business, I was again part of the kid group.

Out of the blue, Non-Don asked me about my mom. I felt this innocent inclination was probably telling of Non-Don’s yearning for his own mother. We shared a few pictures, I showed him a video of my dogs back home and we laughed while waiting to be summoned by the higher adult powers.

At home, we shared a bucket of KFC (yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food in Thailand) and of course Non-Don and myself were the two left last eating. Encouraged by our clear shared love for fried chicken, Non-Don looked at me and confidently stated we could finish the bucket together. Although we instead decided to not stuff ourselves and save some chicken for our neighbors (also family), in this moment our bond was cemented.

I am grateful for these days of child-like wonder, where everything is new and I am still barely grasping the basics of life. I am blessed to have the opportunity to once again experience the freedom and simplicity that goes with a child-like mind. This is a life-lesson for me to never let big grown-up superiority complex get in the way of connecting with kids at their level, a  human level.

Thanks to these lovely ladies for putting up with the heat to hold my hand and to help me learn 🙂

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How to live a Joyful life

What brings us happiness?

According to psychologist Steven Pinker, people are most happy when they are: healthy, well-fed, comfortable, safe, prosperous, knowledgeable, respected, non-celibate, loved.

Personally, if I use this checklist or just my daily feeling of apprecaition for life, I am a very happy person and can check off every attribute on this list (except for a brief hiatus in non-celibacy). I feel so lucky and privileged to have so many of these attributes and since I have so few sufferings, it has made me more attuned to the sufferings of others…

Somehow, being a farang with limited Thai, many of the Thai women I have become close with have opened up to me intimately. They have exposed their hearts, expressed their sufferings and I have listened, to the best of my understanding, with empathy.

I see the perceived sufferings of these women and feel pretty helpless to help them. The women seem to feel pretty hopeless themselves yet they keep smiling through their pain, continue working and giving and opening up to their token farang friend, jokingly dreaming of moving to America.

This reminds me that of all the flaws Americans see within their own society, the United States still remains a beacon of opportunity and hope for people who feel stuck in their home country’s predicaments. One aspect that astounds me is that in a Buddhist country these women do not seem to take advantage of, what now modern psychology is supporting to be, the benefits of meditation.


I am currently reading “The Book of Joy” an interview with two of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time: the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. These two men are amazing in their capacity for compassion and dedication to help people in need. Both have been through great sufferings – as the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile from his home for five decades and is continually lambasted by the Chinese government who are even trying to control his reincarnation. Archbishop Tutu was a leader of the apartheid resistance in South Africa, who put his life at constant risk to fight in a vicious racial war and continues to work to establish peace in his war-torn country.


In most spiritual practices, including Christianity and Buddhism, there is an acknowledgement that all is not right with the world as it is. Buddhism calls it a constant suffering; Christianity speaks to the evils that entice us daily. Henry James defined “the animating essence of religion [to be] the belief that there is an unseen order and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves to that order.”

Many people who are suffering have time and again sought out spirituality as means to find meaning and relieve some of the daily sufferings of life. With or without spiritual practice, it seems to be a common theme of humanity to at least seek happiness, to find a meaning and an order to the chaos of what life throws at us, most of it beyond our control.


What I’ve noticed is that the men I’ve dated, the friends and mentors who I’ve greatly respected, have all gone through some type of suffering and I believe have become better and stronger people because of that suffering. Surviving through tragedies is a test of our characters, our inner essences and can teach us valuable life lessons about what we are capable of controlling.

Which always begs the question for me: how does one become a better person when one does not have a lot of strife in their life? How does one raise children and allow them the suffering that will make them better human beings while still protecting them and giving them everything they need? In other words, how do we create a generation of strong, compassionate people who aren’t spoiled and have little meaning in their lives because they have never suffered?


The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop suggest 8 pillars to Joy (the first four of the mind and the second four of the heart). The attributes embody helping others as a means of bringing joy into our own lives. They believe that if we can embody these eight essences, than we can live a joyful life:

  1. Perspective – the ability to re-frame one’s mindset, to see the wider perspective beyond our limited self-interest
    1. One profound example of this idea, is the Dalai Lama’s own perspective on his forced exile from his home in 1959: “There are different aspects to any event. For example, we lost our country and became refugees, but that same experience gave us new opportunities to see more things… So personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. It’s been more useful, more opportunity to learn, to experience life… Therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, so sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities.”

  2. Humility – just one human being talking to other human beings, the same human being with the same potential for constructive emotions and destructive emotions
    1. Even His Holiness just considers himself another person. As a young boy, nervous at some formal teachings, the Dalai Lama would forget this thinking, believing he was special and “that kind of thinking would make me feel isolated. It is this sense of separateness that isolates us from people. In fact, this arrogant way of thinking creates loneliness and then anxiety…if you remain humble, then there is the possibility to keep learning.”

  3. Humor – it’s about bringing people onto common ground, not to belittle but to uplift, allowing us to recognize and laugh about our shared humanity, about our shared vulnerabilities, out shared frailties
    1. Archbishop Tutu was a speaker at many funerals that turned into political rallies during the anti-apartheid movement, an explosive situation after discriminatory massacres and genocides, yet the Archbishop was able to defuse very, very tense situations. He said his “weaponry, if you can call it that, was almost always to use humor, and especially self-denigrating humor, where you are laughing at yourself” telling jokes to flip the angry, frustrated and sorrowful morale.

  4. Acceptance – accept our life in all its pain, imperfection and beauty; when we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next
    1. Acceptance means not fighting reality. The Archbishop explains further: “We are meant to live in joy. This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.”

  5. Forgiveness – when we choose to forgive, we break the cycle and we can heal, renewing or releasing the relationship
    1. The Dalai Lama makes the important distinction between forgiveness and simply allowing others’ wrongdoing; the power of forgiveness lies in “not losing sight of the humanity of the person (actor) while responding to the wrong (action) with clarity and firmness.” The Archbishop makes a point that “without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailer. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”

  6. Gratitude – the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing right now
    1. The book shares a strong story of a man, sentenced to death row for a crime he did not commit, spending 30 years in solitary confinement, only allowed to leave his cell for only 1 hour per day. Throughout serving the sentence, he was a source of strength for the other inmates as well as the prison guards who all came to him for emotional counseling. He remained joyful throughout his sentence and of course upon his release, maintaining a strong sense of appreciation for life: “when you are blessed to see another day that should automatically give you joy.”

  7. Compassion – a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved
    1. Both spiritual leaders agreed that “we are most joyful when we focus on others, not on ourselves and when we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced.” First, we need to work on showing self-compassion: “accept that there are parts of our personality that we may not be satisfied with, but we do not berate ourselves as we try to address them. When we go through a difficult time, we are caring and kind to ourselves, as we would be to a friend or relative. When we feel inadequate in some way, we remind ourselves that all people have these feelings or limitations. When things are hard, we recognize that all people go through similar challenges. And finally when we are feeling down, we try to understand this feeling this curiosity and acceptance rather than rejection and self-judgement.”

  8. Generosity – becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us
    1. “When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing  all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a genserosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves.”

As the Dalai Lama puts it, ‘In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.’”

dirty little secret

This is the kind of picture I usually don’t post to my social media: trash lined, dirty beaches don’t look pretty even with a colored filter from Instagram.

And yet it’s often the reality in Thailand.

Behind the camera’s perspective of a beautiful shore in Chumphon, there is unfortunately a load of garbage.

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Even so, that was not something I initially captured or even shared.

The featured picture of trash above was found among troves of beach-trashed pictures washed up on the shores of the internet, not a picture I took.

I think this non-sharing of reality, paints a bigger picture…

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The trash barely visible on the edges of our photographs encapsulate the messy realities on the edges of our consciousness.

We often share the glamour and turn a blind eye toward ugliness because it is uncomfortable to face.

 

While appreciation for beauty and optimism for the future propel us forward, let us not ignore the dirty realities at our feet.

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I ran away from America as a tsunami warning trumpeted its arrival and ended up in a place with its own build up of trash.

In this global community, there is no running away, because we are ONE with the same Earth.

Even while I am 8,000 miles away from my home, the repercussions of actions made anywhere in the world create vibrations felt throughout the world.

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Dirty realities are right at our feet. Beautiful possibilities are also between our toes.

Let our global community capture both in order to see the whole picture. We don’t have time to ignore reality like a dirty little secret.

Tempus fugit velut umbra. Time flees like a shadow.