30 March 2010

A New Spirit of Place

Sunday evenings have been reserved for Movie Night at Bob's for almost as long as I've lived in Bangkok. When I first met Bob he lived in an old wooden house behind Suan Plu market. I quickly became a regular among the small band of movie buffs who'd crowd onto his bed to watch videos on a 14" TV screen. I was there when Bob graduated to a DVD player and 21" TV screen, and also when he moved to a spacious house surrounded by gardens some seven years ago.

Compared to the old Suan Plu days, movie watching at Bob's Ramkamheng abode is a sophisticated affair held in a large living room with sofa, chairs, wide screen and surround sound. The one constant remains Bob's commitment to screening a diverse and fabulously eclectic selection of movies from around the world. Bob's understandably proud that movies we've watched over the years always appear in lists of the world's Top 100 best all-time films.

Anywhere from four to 12 movie watchers can turn up for the Sunday night screenings. As one of his most consistent attendees, Bob started calling me his Spirit of Place. Ol' insecure me loved feeling "special" and to justify the title I devised a list of dedicated SoP movie chores. Apart from arriving early, I'd switch on the upstairs light, arrange chairs, turn on the aircon and the various electronic devices. One everyone had taken their seats, I'd put the DVD in the player and switch off the room lights.

By far SoP's most important self-imposed task was shepherding kibitzing attendees from the kitchen to the living room for the 7:30 pm start time. Some folks might not have seen each other in ages and were deep in conversation. Others arrived late but acted like they had all the time in the world to chat. During the process of cajoling people into the living room I felt more like a whip-cracking lion tamer than a shepherd! Probably that's how everyone else perceived me too.

Through learning Qigong with Sifu H, I've come to realize how tightly I've always clung to the myth of CONTROL. Intellectually I can spout that change is the only constant in life. Acknowledging it deeply is another matter. I've always proudly described myself as an aging hippy who lives an eccentric and unstructured existence, though deep down I was extremely unhappy. Punctuality, order and ritual fed the illusion that I was in charge of my life whereas actually they only underscored my fear of change and the unknown.

Qigong's given me a gut-level awareness of my inability to control the constancy of change. Today's Spirit of Place feels imbued with a loving and caring spirit instead of a controlling one. I "see" how furniture arranging, lighting setups, clock watching and people herding contribute nothing to my sense of self worth. So I've relinquished those tasks. What's so crucial about starting at precisely 7:30 pm anyhow? By letting go of the patently false notion that exercising control means I'm powerful and important, I've opened myself up to the possibility of meaningful and heartfelt interactions.

P.S. I can almost hear Sifu H reminding me that attaching to what a fabulous new SoP I've become is just as dangerous as attaching to feeling powerless and insignificant. Awful or fabulous is all an illusion in our minds anyhow, he'd say. I'm not quite at that level of awareness, but at least I'm finally walking the walk instead of merely talking the talk!

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