January 14, 2014
Experiencing cultural and academic events in Thailand has really opened my eyes to the value that Thai people have around self-care. For example, a few weeks ago, we experienced a monk chat. We had the opportunity to listen to a monk talk about his personal experiences with connecting to Buddhism, becoming a monk, the history of the Buddha, and traditional practices. One of the things from this monk chat that stuck with me and that I really learned from is that Buddhism is more a way of life and philosophy than a religion. Many of the traditional practices are not linked to worshipping a higher being but rather strengthening and empowering the self. As I was familiar with before, meditation and purifying the mind is a large part of the Buddhist practice. KK, the monk who lead this discussion, showed us the multiple meditation positions and how to let the body free of stress and thinking. KK also shared with us some of the other values and philosophies behind Buddhism like the importance of living in the present and detaching the self from wanting more that you have. As he was describing Buddhism, I thought about how much these philosophies direct the mind to the self and the body. The inner-self is emphasized through these Buddhist teachings rather than looking outside of the self to what others around may think.
We had this monk chat early in the trip, and since that experience, my eyes have been opened to the other areas of the Thai culture that tie the mind, body, and soul together—further emphasizing self-care and focusing within. The importance of getting massages also connects to the self and taking care of one’s body. When visiting the Waat Pho Massage School, I learned that these types of Thai massages are really an art and way of healing the body. The professional massage staff studies the physiology of the body and where certain pressure points are while also incorporating self-stretching into the practice. And I noticed at the elder’s home and the mental hospital that we visited also offer these massages as part of the therapy and healing process.
It has been interesting for me to reflect on the differences between Thailand and the United States when it comes to self-care and doing things for oneself. In the USA, our unequal society and capitalistic economy creates a social evaluate threat for people. These are threats to a person’s self-esteem and social status (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009). In a capitalistic society, the more material wealth that one has results in a higher status on the social ladder. This results in people wanting more and there can be a stronger sense of vulnerability and sensitivity to one’s social status, which ultimately increases the social evaluate threat when there are higher levels of inequality. In the USA, we are so conscious of how we look to others in terms of our social status and how much that we have. Sometimes I find myself doing things for others more than doing things for myself and looking inside myself. My self-esteem can be dictated by how I am perceived by whoever is around me or important to me.
Learning more about self-care and looking within myself through these cultural experiences in Thailand has really emphasized how important this is. Thailand is a collectivist society but still places so much emphasis on empowering and taking care of the self, which I am looking forward to incorporating more into my life.
The picture of a woman giving our guide, Zuzana, a massage was taken at the Wat Pho Massage school that we visited. She was demonstrating the multiple techniques of the Wat Pho massage.
The picture of all of the monks was taken right outside a Buddhist temple and by the area that we had the monk chat.
The picture of me sitting in a chair with funny brown pants is when I was getting my first Thai foot/leg massage, which was incredible!