01 May 2010

Shirtless in Bangkok

Aphrodite of Melos and Jennifer practice non-attachment to the shirt-color wars

Living in the midst of an escalating political crisis creates plenty of opportunities to practice letting go and non-attachment. I thought these were Buddhist concepts I'd never assimilate because I didn't meditate, but Sifu H incorporates them into his teachings too. As the links make clear, non-attachment isn't a synonym for detachment. An example: When I returned to Bangkok after the second round of Qigong in Chiang Mai last year, the entire metropolis looked straight out of the 1982 movie Koyannisqatsi. (The title is a Hopi Indian word for life out of balance.) Hoping to block out the intense sights and sounds, I carefully lowered my eyes when walking around downtown.

"That's not non-attachment," said Sifu H when I rang him to describe my reaction. "The point is not to avoid seeing the reality," he counseled. [That's detachment.] "The point is to see the reality but not let your mind reach out and cling to it." [Non-attachment.]

As the current situation in Bangkok and across the country slowly deteriorates into what looks like anarchy, I focus on not letting myself get sucked in by all the anger, fear and hatred spewed out by leaders of the Red, Yellow or Multicolor shirt gangs. That doesn't mean I ignore what goes on.I've always been interested in what happens around me and enjoy listening to thoughtful discussions, like that recent FCCT (Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand) panel on the crisis.

And most days I continue a practice I started after the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin. I sift through blogs, websites and emails to extract articles offering different perspectives from the standard media buzz and forward the links to a growing list of people interested in Thai politics. During the 2006 coup, the 2008 occupation of Suvhanabumi by the Yellow Shirts and last year's Red Shirt violence over Songkran I was a panicked worrywart. Like an addict, I craved ever more information about situations over which I had absolutely no control This year, despite exposing myself to large doses of an even bigger political drama, I can stand back and observe it. Doing the daily Qigong routine releases tension and calms many irrational fears.

I had a chance to note my changing reactions to mega doses of political palaver last Sunday when I went to a birthday lunch for YC, a long-established and respected photographer. He's close to many Bangkok-based shooters and journalists, including some world renowned luminaries.

During my freelance writing heyday (1994-2007) professional media types always intimidated me. I'd compare my quirky, description-filled tales in international magazines and newspapers to their globally relevant efforts and belittle my work as the stuff of kindergarten sandboxes.

Back then I didn't appreciate my distinctive style and unusual story angles. I pooh poohed anyone who praised my writing and figured they were just being polite. Instead of being grateful for my gift, I continually trashed myself for writing trivia and not being a "real" journalist. Sometimes photographers approached me regarding potential collaborations, but they always ended up doing features with other more versatile writers. I purposely misconstrued our professional incompatibilities as a rejection and used it as another excuse to beat up on myself.

Cultivating non-attachment requires conscious effort, especially when the dramas are playing out in my adopted hometown. I arrived late to YC's lunch and squeezed in among the dozen or so of his friends—including several of the aforementioned luminaries. We sat around a table laden with homemade salads, grilled meats and fish, pasta cheeses and assorted taste treats. After piling a plate with grilled squid, ribs and various salads, I decided to join one of the conversations swirling around me.

People's body language telegraphed the gravity of the topics. Instead of lazing about in the afternoon heat enjoying scrumptious food, French wine and what should have been a relaxed atmosphere, everyone was leaning forward and talking or listening intently.

Worrywart Jennifer of yore would have joined one of the confabs and worked herself up into a frenzy of fear and anxiety over the increasingly bizarre confrontations spreading out around Bangkok. Transforming Jennifer sincerely wished the guests would drop the political analyses for a couple of hours and focus on the raison d'ĂȘtre of the gathering, i.e. YC's birthday. Even after YC popped the corks on two bottles of Moet Brut and poured glasses for everyone, the political repartee didn't miss a beat until I gently suggested perhaps a toast was in order. The fog of seriousness finally began to lift after the two best known participants left; one to file a story and the other to chase after photo of another brewing confrontation.

During my 15 years as a freelancer I observed many talented creatives whose deep passion for a story or photo continually impelled them into the world's danger zones. Some grew addicted to their lives of tension and even when not on assignment sought out similar adrenaline-producing activities. I don't criticize anyone for being passionate about their work; at one point I yearned desperately to be that dedicated about mine. However I now believe it's all a question of balance.

Through practicing Qigong I'm realizing the importance of being physically and mentally centered, even though I'm far from achieving those goals. In physical terms it means relaxing my body yet feeling the strength emanating from my dan tian. Mentally it means hearing/seeing but not attaching to the drama of people, situations, conversations, events, etc.

1 comment:

kimsywimsy said...

what a pleasure to read your postings. i have missed your writings.
kim from long long ago in bangkok!