The mindfulness cure (for Thailand's political division)

by Sanitsuda Ekachai, The Bangkok Post, Sept 12, 2008

Bangkok, Thailand -- Take a deep breath. Watch it leave the nostrils. Watch it come back in. Feel the sensation. See the difference. Watch the constant change. Try do it for at least 10 minutes to let the calm set in.

Indeed, we need to instil our inner calm more than ever to prevent ourselves from getting carried away in the emotional rollercoaster of our dangerously unpredictable politics.

As the nation sinks deeper into political divisiveness, we also need to build inner strength that will help pull us out of the quagmire of hatred and violence.

We Thais like to claim that we are peace-loving Buddhists. Yet, we've blown it many times before with violent clashes and crackdowns in previous political crises. Whether or not we fail again this time around, depends very much on how Buddhist we really are.

Forget our political leadership that has no sense of shame. Forget money politics, authoritarian bureaucracy, destructive development policies, and the unjust social structures that perpetuate oppression and suffering on the ground.

Not that they are not important. On the contrary.

Those are the sources of conflict rooted in our society's inequality and moral breakdown. They are also powerful forces ready to destroy anyone in their way. That is why we need to be well-equipped mentally for the challenge.

Samak Sundaravej (current caretaker Prime Minister) or not, new general elections or not, we will certainly slide into the same political instability again, if the root causes of injustice are not fixed. To fix them without being overwhelmed by anger and greed of the moment, however, we need to build within ourselves a deep reservoir of calm.

We need an insight that all things - including ourselves, our perceived enemies and our imperfect world - are under the same laws of interconnectedness and change. That we are under the same cycle of samsara of birth, old age, illness and death.

More importantly, we need to learn the art of letting go. Not only of status and possessions, but also of our beliefs and the false sense of self or ego.

Otherwise, in our quest for change, we will be lost in greed, anger, hatred and a sense of moral superiority - which have turned countless ideologues into fascists.

As Buddhists, the first step towards cultivating calm and insight is by returning to ourselves, our breath.

By mindfully observing our breathing and change in body sensation, we will realise by ourselves the power of our own thoughts; how mild feelings can spiral out of control into strong and violent emotions when we let ourselves get swept away in the stream of thoughts that are rooted in past resentment and fear for the future.

We will also find how illusive our thoughts are; how they change from one matter to another by themselves without any logical sequence; and how they stop so suddenly when our awareness catches them.

It is the same with emotions. Watch them mindfully to see how they arise, subside and pass away. Watch them flare up again when triggered by thoughts or words loaded by values, prejudices, hopes and fears, only to pass away again.

Like all things, emotions do not last. They change when conditions change. Such is the law of impermanence.

Such insight miraculously fills us with hope and loving kindness. Through experiencing the constant flux of change within, we know for certain that there is no such thing as a dead end. All is subject to change. And we can influence the change and steer clear of hurting others by being mindful of our thoughts, our words and our actions.

The current political crisis boils down to a clash of burning anger, greed and hatred. The structural inequality and injustice that sustains it also boils down to greed, anger and attachment to ego, from not knowing that nothing lasts.

If we are true Buddhists, if we want real change through peace, we must open our hearts, welcome differences and change with loving kindness.

Start with mindfulness.

Start with ourselves.

Take a deep breath.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.