Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Story, Water and the Sacred

Fifteen hours of workshops in the next two weeks. The intent is to teach experiential exercises that will support the counselors in fostering mental health and to understand how a person's personal and cultural stories affect their behavior. The foundation of all the exercises will be narrative and story in hopes of developing narrative consciousness and narrative therapeutic skills. These two weeks will be the most intense weeks of my stay with very little time for anything.

However, I will participate in two unique and significant celebrations . The young boys are being initiated as novice monks this weekend and in a week or so there will be the water festival. This time of year is when three days are set aside and water is celebrated during the hottest and driest time of the year.

And of course this is Holy Week and the Triduum. I will celebrate at a Shan Roman Rite Catholic Church

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Work in Thailand Plus

The Work in Thailand

The Shan counselors’ dedication and willingness to work hard encourages me in my responsibilities. Without their eagerness to serve and to learn I would not be able to do my work. The constant need to choose ways of teaching that challenges them to become self-directed learners challenges me. This goal is accomplished only to the degree that I allow them to teach me. The two sessions I conducted on story and mental health and one on stress that I assisted taught me about many of the subtle differences between our cultures. One of the major differences is the reluctance to challenge an authority figure and another is the difficulty in self-disclosure. However I must say for many of us counselors, self-disclosure and transparency is not always one of our fortes. In the next two weeks the Fortune counselors will be educating medics, herbal doctors, and local Shan communities about mental health. I am looking forward to experiencing them in action.

A Surprise: Teaching Meditation at a Buddhist Monastery

On Friday of this week (I am 12 hours ahead of you) I had the opportunity to teach meditation at the Wat Sri Boen Ruang Buddhist monastery. Now you may ask why am I –a Western good old catholic boy- teaching meditation at a Buddhist Monastery. Well I mentioned to some of the directors about teaching meditation and how the approach helps individuals to find their natural meditation method and to help those who struggle with meditation. Well it turns out that my approach was very helpful for several western individuals including staff members of the Blood Foundations. I was also given the opportunity to speak with the head Abbot Dr. Apisit. We are to speak again soon to continue the conversation. He is in the process of setting up an international meditation center and I am sure I can learn much.

One Day in Thailand

A wind chime pleasantly rings
a single cicada begins a song
joined by another and then another
I can distinguish each additional cicada
until overwhelmed, my ears
hear only a single blended chorus
an atonal cacophony of sound
tenaciously driven towards a smashing crescendo
and at the very moment that the sound overcomes
every voice stops.
and only a wind chime pleasantly rings.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


At night I carefully walk up three flights of wooden steps to my room. The steps are too small for my American feet. This morning the red sun arises & peeks over the corrugated roof tops. In Chiang Ria I learned more about the tribal hill people's, attempts to survive & preserve their culture. I made contact with an NGO & spent time at the Hill Tribe Museum. I hope the knowledge & contacts will help me in the work.

a morning in Chiang Ria

The red burning sun rises, music drifts through my window, traffic stirs, roosters crow, and Chiang Ria awakens. I sit on the edge of my bed in a cheap run down guest house and look out the window. The cool morning takes the edge off of yesterday's heat. My mind (filled with images of the mountain side farms, the all night market and the clock tower) tries to grasp and then gives up its attempt to comprehend Thailand. I hope todays visit to the Hill Tribe Museum will help. Tomorrow back to work visiting the Shan communities. The stories are sad and courageous.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Matter of Time

Even before I left for Thailand I wrestled with how to manage my time while I was there. I felt I only had so much time and had so much to get done, to see and to accomplish. I knew I had to use time wisely and efficiently and not wastefully or ineptly.
Two tall strands of bamboo stand a hundred yards from my front steps. They mirror each other though the reflections are not perfect. Standing side-by-side they create a gateway and an ikon to a reality that transcends space and time. I sit for hours gazing upon these delicate lacy growths. A background of grey haze accentuates their presence and in early evening as the light fades they become mere silhouettes against the darken sky. Sometimes I ponder their presence for a moment, an hour and sometimes more. As I do time passes but I do not notice. In the land of a thousand images I contemplate these unruly clumps of bamboo as others meditate on the Buddha.
Time passed today…
The formal training began today. The intent of the training was to integrate the counselor’s knowledge of Western counseling techniques with Shan cultural approaches. There are two young man that spent many years in Buddhist monasteries. My hope is that as we explore they will see ways to utilize their training. When I mentioned that we needed to learn together they looked puzzled. Much of the education in Thailand is in Friere’s work called a “banking system.” We open your skull pour in the information and shut the door. In other words rote learning. One Shan leader called the Shan people “Order People.” He said “Our people are used to taking orders and do not process information.” However another educator pointed out that once their horizons are expanded, they can think with the best... " My hope is that my training will help the counselors to further develop their analytical and critical thinking skills through the use of narrative and story.
We shall see…

Finding My Way

I find myself overwhelmed by all the Buddhist Temples. Every turn I find myself viewing beautiful ornate red, gilded structures. As I walk to the steps, take off my shoes, and begin to walk up the steps a supremely large gold or white Buddha greets me and bids me to be awake.
Interviews and encounters with town folk and with the counselors and others are helpful. Even sitting at the noodle shop at the end of our dirt road gives insight to the resiliency of the Shan. However their resiliency can also hide the deep trauma and losses of the people. One shared about his own flight from Burma and the hope for his people.

I also met Ben and Jill of the Blood-Foundation their work with the Shawn in education and advocacy encouraged me. Their work can be seen at

All I hear inspires me but also makes me wonder if I am up to the task. We shall see.

In the Heat of the Day...

I am now in Thailand in a small village in the North. My home overlooks a valley and in the horizon the mountains arise to spectacular heights. Sadly there seems a permanent haze muting the colors. Orange orchards surround the house and from early morning, through the heat of the day into late evening migrants prune, water and prepare the trees for the growing season.

Met twice with the counselors and feel impressed with their dedication and enthusiasm. We went to the fields Friday for outreach to the migrant community. The migrants start early in the morning and work to dusk. Heat, pesticides and chemical greet them as they enter the fields. They cover themselves from head to toe to protect themselves to no avail against the chemicals. Many show symptoms of chemical poisoning such as skin rashes.

The oppressive heat during the day wears on me but at night a welcome coolness soothes and comforts. I found myself exhausted for several days from the combination of heat and traveling. In those hot heated moments I wondered “What am I doing here?” Today I awoke remembering why and feeling almost rested and ready for the day. However, I have found one unavoidable hazard and that is low doorways. A few bumps already decorate my head.
As in Africa things change rapidly but life moves slowly.