Think Big Thoughts but Relish Small Pleasures

Think Big Thoughts but Relish Small Pleasures

I’ve always loved this quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. Living in Thailand and being a teacher remind me to ‘Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures’ daily. For example…

Gorgeous floating flowers in pots.

Gorgeous floating flowers in pots

Seeing a pineapple plant grow

Seeing a pineapple plant grow

Accidentally happening upon a charming rooftop restaurant in Chiang Mai

Accidentally happening upon a charming rooftop restaurant in Chiang Mai

This graceful little flower known as anchan in Thai, butterfly pea in English, and scientifically as clitoria.

This graceful little flower known as anchan in Thai, butterfly pea in English, and scientifically as clitoria

Seeing the creativity of students' recycled art projects.

Witnessing the creativity of students’ recycled art projects

Hiking with this little cutie named Manee

Hiking with this little cutie named Manee

Noticing the 'Wintry' and 'Summer' settings on the hot water heater for a shower

Noticing the ‘Wintry’ and ‘Summer’ settings on the hot water heater for a shower

Having a little think by the lake

Having a little think by the lake

Finding a student's drawing of/for me

Finding a student’s drawing of/for me

Blatant copyright infringement

Hilarious and blatant copyright infringement

The exquisite mangosteen - edible art

The exquisite mangosteen – edible art

Cutting into a papaya, and finding a star.

Cutting into a papaya, and finding a star.

Students making a game out of weeding the rice

Students making a game out of weeding the rice field

Students ploughing like buffalo

Having fun ploughing like buffalo

...and playing with the plough

…and playing with the plough

The lotuses that bloom in the morning

The lotuses that bloom in the morning

The serenity of the ubiquitous Buddha images

The serenity of the ubiquitous Buddha images

Planting rice at Panyaden on Thai Mother's Day

Planting rice at Panyaden School on Thai Mother’s Day

After four years of living and teaching in Thailand, I have learned a few simple, but profound lessons:

Noticing what children and nature teach us is worthwhile. Pay attention. Be present. Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures.

Justice vs Forgiveness

Justice vs Forgiveness

I recently attended a women’s circle in Chiang Mai at Wild Rose where we drew questions revolving around a theme. One of the questions I drew was: ‘What is more important, justice or forgiveness?’

Which one is it justice or forgiveness? Not the horrible injustices in the world, but the day to day ones we all feel. When someone has ‘wronged’ us, so often we want retribution. We’re angry. We want vindication. I realized that I’ve wanted that. Then I thought about it with a little more compassion.

I have been focusing on wise speech, and had shared this with my students:

Just think about it

Just think about it

It felt hypocritical to ask this of them, and yet, not live up to it myself. I’d said some things out of anger that didn’t make me feel good on the inside. I needed to let go of anger.

What we don’t always realize is that hanging on to anger keeps us away from joy.

A few days later, Phra Ajarn Jayasaro gave a dhamma talk at Panyaden about anger. He explained that anger is frustrated desire. He continued by saying, “Anger can only arise through a lack of understanding of the way things are.” In anger we deliberately turn away from some elements of truth.

I am paraphrasing some of what Ajarn Jayasaro said here: Every time we act on an angry impulse, we feed that anger. Every indulgence makes it more a part of us. We can’t just decide not to be angry, but we can decide not to abuse physically or verbally. We need to feed mindfulness. If we’re mindful, irritation gets nipped in the bud. If we consciously decide to use metta (loving kindness), that is what will grow.

His dhamma talk is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdXd–FRjSA

Seeing things the way they are isn’t always easy. Meditation helps, but it takes so much practice. We all make mistakes.

I just started reading a book called, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky A. Bailey. She wrote, “Each moment is as it is because the entire universe is as it is. When you struggle against the moment…you are struggling against the universe. No wonder you feel tired!” 

I was tired. It is now time to try and see things as they are. 

The antidote to anger is love and metta. The more I focus on being loving, the more I feel loved. We get more of what we focus on.

I was pondering this while riding my bike home and stopped to take this picture. What do you notice? Where is your focus? The palm trees? The cloudy sky? The wires? The elephant? The tree with the orange blossoms?  Whatever you notice, how does it make you feel?

You get more of what you focus on

You get more of what you focus on

So, is it justice or forgiveness? For me, it’s forgiveness. Forgive others for the mistakes they’ve made. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made. Forgive and let it go.

Nothing like a little Chiang Mai graffiti to remind us what's most important: All your need is love.

Nothing like a little Chiang Mai graffiti to remind us what’s most important: All your need is love 

Forgiveness is a step toward love.

“Love is stronger than justice, love is thicker than blood. Love, love, love is stronger than justice, love is a big fat river in flood.” – Sting

Visaka Bucha Day วันวิสาขบูชา

Visaka Bucha Day วันวิสาขบูชา

Visaka Bucha Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. It is said that all three events happened on the same day of the year – the full moon day of the sixth Indian lunar month of Visaka. This year it was celebrated on June 1.

Going to wian tian at Wat Chedi Luang

Going to wian tian at Wat Chedi Luang with my lotus flower, candle, and three sticks of incense.

If the idea of these three events happening on the same day sounds like a mythological mystery, try looking at it from a different point of view.

One of my students asked the monk Phra Ajarn Jiew why they were on the same day. His answer was enlightening. He explained that the Buddha was born as a man – Siddhartha. When he became a Buddha, it was like the birthday of the Buddha. When he reached enlightenment, it was like reaching nibbana, which is the ultimate state passing from one lifetime to the next. All three on the same day.

 

On the evening of Visaka Bucha I joined other Buddhists walking around the main shrine of Wat Chedi Luang three times, in honor of the triple gem of Buddhism: the Buddha, his teachings (dhamma), and the community of followers (sangha). This circumambulation is called wian tian.

Full moon and Wat Chedi Luang

Full moon and Wat Chedi Luang

Lighting the candles and incense and giving the flower offerings after wian tian.

Lighting the candles and incense and giving the flower offerings after wian tian.

The full moon and big tree at Wat Chedi Luang

The full moon and big tree at Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang is significant to me because it’s where I celebrated my birthday 15 years ago by lighting off a komloy (paper lantern). It’s one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai and there is something definitively sacred about it.

Meanwhile, next door at Wat Phan Tao this magical scene unfolded.

Meanwhile, next door at Wat Phantao this magical scene unfolded.

At Wat Phantao a group of young monks sitting in meditation with candles lit on the water and all around them. (Sorry for the blurry pictures – they were taken with my iPod)

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

12 These pictures don’t really capture the magnificence…so let’s try a little video. So appreciative that I got to experience this celebration.

So appreciative that I got to experience this celebration. mo

Daily Bits of Joy ประจำวันปิติ

Daily Bits of Joy ประจำวันปิติ

Living in Chiang Mai gives me a dose of elation on a daily basis. In the morning, this is the beauty I see:

This tree greets me everyday as I walk into school.

This tree greets me everyday as I walk into work at Panyaden School.

Walking to the office includes bananas and Bodhi trees.

On my way to the office includes bananas and Bodhi trees.

My new classroom

My new classroom

The beginning of the rainy season viewed from my classroom. Ahh, a relief from the heat.

The beginning of the rainy season viewed from my classroom. Ahh, a relief from the heat.

Jubilant children running through puddles.

Jubilant children running through puddles.

Blooming lotus in my backyard. บัวบาน

Blooming lotus in my backyard. บัวบาน

Buddha image delighting in the lotus

Buddha image delighting in the lotus

All of nature reminding us to be mindful of each moment. Everything is temporary. Notice beauty.

ดอกบัว

ดอกบัว

Don’t Touch the Cobra

Don’t Touch the Cobra

This was the advice I received from the Buddhist nun, Ajarn Sundara, who visited our school. It was in response to my question about how to deal with a recurring thought.

‘Thoughts are like cobras in the mind. If you don’t touch them, they won’t hurt you.’ As odd as this might sound, it actually did make me feel better. Now when the thought comes, I don’t ignore it, but tell it kindly that I know what it is, and that I have no use for the thought anymore. To keep investigating it is like poking at a cobra. If I don’t bother with it, it will go away eventually. I have poked and prodded this serpentine nagging in my mind for too long now. 

I sense that the cobra is in the process of slowly slithering away. Without the cobra plaguing my mind, things are becoming clearer again. It feels like there is more spaciousness and more freedom to just be.

thumbs_IMG_5327Offering rice to Ajarn Sundara on Makha Bucha Day at Panyaden School.

 

Top 10 Reasons I love Chiang Mai

Top 10 Reasons I Love Chiang Mai

It's true, I love Chiang Mai

It’s true, I love Chiang Mai

Now that I have lived in Chiang Mai for over two years, it’s nice to look back and realize that I still love it here. Although the chaos, smells, heat and traffic may not appeal to everyone, here are just a few of the reasons I love it here. This list is in no particular order.

1. Beauty is everywhere – both in nature and human made

Just a bunch of gorgeous orchids hanging in a parking lot.

Just a bunch of elegant orchids hanging in a parking lot.

An organic farm - part of The Royal Project - right in the middle of the city.

An organic farm – part of The Royal Project – right in the middle of the city.

A view of Panyaden School through rice fields.

A view of Panyaden School, where I work, through rice fields.

View from Panyaden School

View from Panyaden School

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Infinity pools in the mountains - here at Verandah

Infinity pools in the mountains – here at Verandah

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

Also, it has a warm tropical climate year-round.

2. Massage and other types of wellness at an affordable price. Thai massage is available just about everywhere you look. It can cost as little as $5 per hour. You can upgrade a little, or a lot.

Pre-massage foot wash. This started off what a $6.00 an hour massage.

Pre-massage foot wash. This was the beginning of a 180 baht ($6.00) an hour massage.

3. Yoga

There are so many places to do yoga in Chiang Mai and loads of fantastic teachers. The three places I tend to go to regularly are Namo, Yoga Tree, and my favorite Wild Rose.

Yoga at Wild Rose

Yoga at Wild Rose

DSC_1654

Acro yoga at the park

Acro yoga at the park

 4. Delicious food

In Chiang Mai I regularly get my dinner from street vendors for around 30 baht (this is about $1 USD). There is Thai food everywhere, of course, but there is also cuisine from around the globe… it will cost a bit more than 30 baht. It’s super easy to be a vegetarian here.

Grtting gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate.

Getting late night gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate…

...after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

…after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

And thankfully there is gorgeous sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I've been.

And thankfully there is outstanding sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I’ve been.

5. Easy to be a farang here

It’s pretty easy to be a foreigner in Chiang Mai – there are oodles of foreigners here and plenty of things to do.

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

climb up the 'sticky waterfalls'

climb up the ‘sticky waterfalls’

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park for a hike in the mountains

6. People are friendly

The way to react is with a smile.

Kru Neung and me planting rice

Kru Neung and me planting rice

7. There is always something new and happening in this ancient city

Galley openings - Lili Tan's work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Galley openings – Lili Tan’s work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Ceramics classes

Ceramics classes

Cute and functional art

Cute and functional art

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

You can see elephants in many places

You can see elephants in many places…hopefully they are being treated well

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang while on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

8. Big city culture and small town safety and community

It’s nice to have something to do, but it’s also nice to go out and see people you know.

Especially if those people make you laugh

Especially if those people make you laugh

9. Buddhism and meditation

Buddhism is alive, well, and omnipresent in Chiang Mai.

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

The monk on his alms round right outside my house - excuse the screen

A monk on his alms round right outside my house – excuse the window screen

Even children know how to meditate

Even children know how to meditate

The Silver Wat off Wualai

The Silver Wat off Wualai St.

Wat Nantaram

Detail from Wat Nantaram

Make an offering at a wat

Making an offering at a Wat Jed Yot

10. Festivals

Thailand has some amazing festivals that are both fun and beautiful.

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Loy Krathong dancers

Loy Krathong dancers

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong at Panyaden

splashing water at Songkran

splashing water at Songkran

Sure there are more cosmopolitan cities with more to do, but for me Chiang Mai is just right.

The Shwedagon is not a Burmese Deodorant

The Shwedagon is not a Burmese Deodorant

The Shwedagon at night

The Shwedagon Paya is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Burma. It is an ancient structure originally built between the 6th – 10th century, though has been rebuilt due to earthquakes and other disasters. In its enormous golden form it contains relics of the Buddha, over 2000 rubies, and over 5000 diamonds, including one 76 carat diamond at the top. Needless to say, it is an impressive sight.

Mark and I arrived during a rainstorm in the late afternoon and stayed to see it lit up after sunset. The storm had cooled off the tiles under our bare feet. I enjoyed finding Monday, the day I was born, is the tiger in Burmese tradition. In Thailand, and apparently Burma, it is important to know which day of the week you were born. There are different Buddhas and colors in Thailand, and in Burma, the were also different animals that represent each of the days of the week. I poured water over the Monday Buddha image, gave it my flower offering, and bowed before it.

My pictures should give a fairly good visual sense of what it was like, without its sheer magnitude. Here is a little text to go with the photos: Golden temple beauty was available from every angle. I was enchanted by the pink robed novice monks and how the older children looked out for the younger ones. An adorable little girl liked making the sound of the temple bells, “Gonnnng.” The volunteer cleaning brigade swept the temple as swiftly as if they were line dancing. The psychedelic/shlockified Buddhas had lights that danced around their enlightened heads. The bright golden stupas looked magnificent lit up against the darkening sky. It was time to leave when it felt like the monk was getting a bit too friendly.

Mark and I joked that Shwedagon or Sweat-be-gone would be a great name for a Burmese deodorant – strong enough for a Buddha, made for a man.

If you go to Burma, it is well worth the trip to visit the Shwedagon in all its golden grandeur.

Annica – Impermanent, Ephemeral, Changing

Anicca – Impermanent, Ephemeral, Changing

If any of you have ever been on a Vipassana meditation retreat, this is a word that you have heard S.N. Goenka crooning as early as 4:30 am: “Anicca, anicca, anicca…….” (sounds like a-nate-cha).

For those of you not familiar, anicca is an ancient Pali word that means everything is ever-changing, impermanent, ephemeral, etc. Although in our logical brains we may realize this to be true, something within our body/mind/heart connection does not want to accept this fact. We crave things to be unchanging, but they always change, and so we ‘suffer’.

Anicca is true. This becomes more obvious when we lose someone unexpectedly.

I had an amazing 3-week trip in Burma where internet access was slow and sporadic, hence making it a facebook free holiday. Upon my return to Chiang Mai, I learned that my friend Azriel Cohen had passed away. There is no doubt I will miss him. He has been mentioned on this blog before and is the person responsible for the hilarious Thai Nicknames videos. (Click on the link to watch the video.)

https://mariposatree.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/thai-nicknames/

https://mariposatree.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/aging-and-appreciations/

I last ran into him on Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai, days before I went to Burma and a week before he died. We had a funny, friendly, and interesting conversation. He was ill and had a gravelly voice, but was in good spirits. Maybe he was sicker than he thought. Our enjoyable evening walk and discussion about dogs, ceramics, Thai language, and upcoming travels gave me some type of closure.

Maybe it’s from living over a year in this Buddhist country, maybe it’s the result of meditation, maybe it’s just a realization, but somehow I feel like I am coming to understand the principle of annica. Life and death. Ebb and flow. Impermanence. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, but rather is the acceptance that death indeed is part of life…as much as we might not like it.

Shalom to you Azriel. As for the rest of us, anicca, anicca, anicca.

108 Reasons I Love Thailand

108 Reasons I Love Thailand

In one way or another, I think all these topics have been covered on this blog, and if they haven’t been, they will be soon. Here is a list that took me about 30 minutes to put together. It’s not really in any particular order, it’s just more what immediately came to mind.

108 Reasons I Love Thailand

  1. the people
  2. friendliness
  3. food
  4. geckos
  5. freedom and acceptance
  6. som dtam
  7. local markets
  8. wats
  9. elephants
  10. yoga
  11. smiling people
  12. birds
  13. tuk tuks
  14. impossible loads on motorbikes
  15. beaches
  16. limestone karsts
  17. Thai massage for about $5 an hour available everywhere
  18. how inexpensive everything is
  19. beautiful traditional thai clothing
  20. silk
  21. rice fields
  22. amazing fruit
  23. jasmine flower garlands
  24. freedom of children
  25. respect for teachers
  26. butterflies
  27. politeness
  28. tinkling temple bells
  29. Buddhism
  30. older women dressed in beautiful sarongs
  31. beautiful pottery
  32. safety
  33. generosity
  34. orchids
  35. water buffalo
  36. Thai people following traditions
  37. a like-minded farang community
  38. art infused in everything
  39. cycling in the Thai countryside
  40. independent dogs
  41. fireflies
  42. thunderstorms
  43. Thai culture
  44. herbal wisdom
  45. monks in orange robes everywhere
  46. pad pahk boon
  47. khao niow 
  48. chirping of geckos
  49. wooden Lanna style houses
  50. spirit houses
  51. wrapped trees
  52. vegetarian food
  53. prik nam pla
  54. pahk canna
  55. meditation
  56. fish ponds
  57. gold leaf
  58. wai greeting
  59. sustainability
  60. delicious eggs
  61. Panyaden
  62. Thai language has no verb conjugations
  63. sound of the tokay gecko
  64. smell of jasmine
  65. scent of plumeria
  66. candles
  67. incense
  68. Songkran
  69. Loi Krathong
  70. komloy
  71. gentleness of spirit
  72. turquoise waters
  73. longtail boats
  74. coconut
  75. kanom
  76. non-aggression
  77. hot to warm all year
  78. Buddha images everywhere
  79. green rice fields with blue mountain silhouettes
  80. English books available nearly everywhere
  81. banana leaf wrapped local street food
  82. motorbikes with side cars
  83. smoky scented air
  84. bia Chang
  85. good coffee
  86. ease of life
  87. hilarious badly translated English signs
  88. tree roots taking over old buildings
  89. chickens running everywhere
  90. ancient architecture
  91. humility
  92. tropical fruit smoothies for 20 baht
  93. old people out and about
  94. babies, children, always with families
  95. beautiful swirly Thai letters and numbers
  96. the sound of monks chanting in the distance
  97. golden wats juxtaposed with the green hillside
  98. laughing and smiling comes easily
  99. foot massage
  100. songs of frogs and crickets
  101. Chiang Mai
  102. sidecars
  103. dok rak flowers
  104. gardenias
  105. fan palms
  106. swimming in waterfalls, lakes, and tiny waves
  107. colors
  108. patience

This list is certainly not extensive, and I’m sure there are at least 108 more reasons I love Thailand.

Why 108 you ask? It is a sacred number in Buddhism. There are 108 prayer beads on a mala. 108 is also the number of defilements to overcome before achieving enlightenment.

A Year In

A Year In

It is my 1 year anniversary of living in Thailand. I am extremely lucky and grateful that I live here everyday. My life is good, and for the most part, I am happy.

I arrived here without a job, or place to live, knew very few words in Thai, and only knew one person in the whole country. A year has passed and I have a wonderful job, a lovely place to live, I know a bit more Thai, and have made several friends too. I still really love it here and Chiang Mai feels like home.

Today after work, Thai class, and running errands, it was close to 7 and dark out on my way home. I was driving through my neighborhood there was a motorbike coming toward me as well as a skittish looking cat. The cat got spooked and it jumped toward the grass and then toward my car. There was no bump or anything, but I didn’t see what happened to the cat. I turned around and my headlights shown on a small feline body on the road. Oh no!

I didn’t quite know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. I checked for a response from the cat and there was none. I tried to remain calm. Five dogs across the way were barking at me from behind a gate.  They kept barking so a person came out. I said, “Kor toad kha. Mew dtai.” The woman came out and I showed her to see if it was hers, she said she fed it. We established the cat was dead and I started crying. In my more than 20 years of driving, I’ve never hit any living thing (besides insects on the windscreen) ever.

The lady was amazingly kind and was more worried about me. She told me to not feel bad and, “Many cat get hit this road. Is part of life. The cat go on to a better life now.” Her husband came out with a box, and we put the cat inside and she took it away. She reassured me that accidents happen. I tried to stop crying, but felt really awful. I love animals and the last thing I want to do is harm them.

I drove home slowly, then called my teaching partner Kru Goy because I wanted to do something for the kind woman. She explained that Thai people would think it’s weird to give something to the person who fed the cat, as she already knew I was sorry. Thai people view death differently than Westerners – death is a part of life and you wish somebody to be born into a better next life. She suggested I meditate and pray for the cat to have a better next life. Stay calm. In the morning I could make an offering at temple and she agreed to meet me at a wat near our school.

The following morning we met at a beautiful wat. Goy talked to the monks. I made an offering of money in an envelope and Kru Goy wrote something in Thai on it. There were two glasses, one full of water and the other empty. Kru Goy said I should pour the water from one glass to the other as the young monk was saying his blessing. After he was done, I was to pour the water glass out on a tree. Kru Goy told me that the monk’s blessing said I didn’t mean to harm the animal and we wished it well.

I couldn’t believe it, but afterwards I genuinely felt better. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted. I felt forgiven.

Death is always a reminder that life is short. We best live in the present.