Today’s post was sent to us from Craig who is currently in Thailand. For those of you that do not know this, Craig won a trip from Travelocity as an Ambassador for Change. He is currently in Thailand doing community service. Below is his message to us:
Saw Wat Dee Krup (Hello)
When I arrived in Thailand a week ago, my mind was filled with questions about what it was going to be like; the city, the food, the customs, the temples, the rules and, most importantly, the people themselves. At first glance, everything seemed so wonderfully exotic and beautifully strange…even other-worldly, at times. During the first week, I found myself focusing on all that is “different” in regards to the people here. I was noticing their clothing, their way of speaking, their mannerisms and facial expressions, the way they drive, they way they eat, the way they wear their hair, so on and so forth. There was so much that seemed different. It was all wonderful and very interesting from a cultural standpoint. But then it occurred to me that all these things are simply outer appearances. They are all just things we tack onto people, sometimes causing us to not see the truth; that, at the very core of things, we are all really the same.
When I began to think in these terms, I was able to move past the illusion that resides on the surface and look deeper. When this happened, I was able to see all the laughter, the joy, the happiness, the generosity, the courage, the fear, the tears, the sadness, the grief, the annoyance, the anger; the things that make us all, uniquely, “human beings”. This was a great (albeit, perhaps obvious) breakthrough for me; to see beyond the surface and really see the people as people…not as a different culture who are like day to my night. This helped me begin to feel right at home in a very short time.
It’s a lesson to me to not be so quick to place labels onto people. Once our mind latches onto “different”, we’re automatically and quite quickly swept up into a story of delusion; that “this person is not like me”. Granted, sometimes the surface differences provide us with lots of great conversation and many good learning experiences. I’ve had many of those in this one short week, here in Bangkok. But, if we’re not mindful about giving into labels of “different”, it can easily go the other way, causing us to get stuck on the surface and not see the truth of “sameness”. Surface differences can be beautiful, meaningful and very educational. But they can also play tricks on the mind to the point where we really miss out on what lies beneath. Seeing “sameness” and moving beyond duality is a fundamental element of training the mind in wisdom.
For instance, many of the Thai people I’ve met are not at all familiar with yoga and many of them have never even seen a downward-facing dog; one of the most universally known yoga poses, known even to many who’ve never stepped onto a yoga mat. Yet, I’ve witnessed these same people practicing kindness, compassion, generosity, patience and smiling…all the time, smiling. This is just another way of saying that they do, in fact, practice yoga. So, in reality, there’s no difference. There is sameness.
Keep this in mind the next time you meet someone and you begin to notice that the mind is moving towards “different”. Keep a close watch on these things. Study how your mind functions in these situations. Notice if “different” is making you feel uneasy and, if so, investigate that. Don’t just let it be. Examine it, pick it apart and really look into why the mind tries to trick us into believing these things. Each such experience is an opportunity to move closer towards wisdom.
Even the pleasant surface differences, while they are interesting and helpful, can cause us to believe that we cannot make a deeper connection with others. For instance, we may meet someone from another culture and truly enjoy all that they offer in the way of “different” but, when all that’s done, we may decide that there’s just too much difference to make any type of a deeper connection with that person; that we really don’t have very much in common with them. At that point, we’ve gotten stuck on the surface and are missing out on what lies beneath. Experience the wonder of surface differences, yes. But don’t allow the mind to get stuck there. There are actually lots more to explore beyond the surface that will truly enrich our experiences when visiting another part of the planet or simply meeting someone new in our own neighborhood.
Kob Khun Krup (Thank You),