Tales from Thailand

Four years ago, I asked my spiritual teacher and guide, Anna Cox, a question, while showing her a photo, “What is going on with this child? I love so many children at the orphanage, but she seems to have stolen my heart in a unique way.” Anna got very excited and responded, “This child has been an important teacher in former lives. You are supposed to bring her here to America and let her co-manage Wattle Hollow with you” [Wattle Hollow is a retreat center that Joy runs]. I am generally thrilled to be child-free and am somewhat of a hermit, deep in my soul. But I also chose to honor my teacher’s suggestion by asking a Thai friend, who lived near the orphanage in Kanchanaburi, to contact the little girl whose name is Coy. 

About a month later, my friend wrote to me, saying, “Maechee ( the nun who runs Dhammanurak orphanage) Jutipak says that Coy was not actually an orphan. Her mother took her away this year.” I wasn’t exactly sorry to “close the books” on this adventure. Coy was about nine or ten years old back then. 

Meanwhile, during that same interview long ago, Anna reported that I wouldn’t be returning to Thailand for my winter volunteering. I’d been traveling there to volunteer every winter for twelve years, so this came as a surprise. She advised me to be alert to new invitations. My “invitation” led me to a sanctuary in a small village in Tanzania, working with beautiful children of albinism. They are in danger in that rural region, since witchdoctors contract for their body parts to add to potions. Business was particularly brisk that year, because politicians and corporate executives are good customers during an election year. 

I slept in a tent outside the center. There were more than thirty kids, plus several staff in the six-room house. There wasn’t quite enough food to eat or water for washing, which we hauled from the well outside, but Sister Helena kept the center going on her deep faith. It was a life-changing experience for me. 

The next couple of winters I continued to have adventures in other countries, with dear Anna as my astral tour-guide. Alas, my beloved teacher is now in a failing state of health, and our visits became less frequent. Last year [2017] we met a few times. At the first visit, she emphatically told me, “no more missions.” There’s no Joy and no Anna, no past and no future. 

She repeated it again, in response to my slightly pouty expression. I replied, “Oh, I know...but the adventures were so amazing, I’m sad.” Anna’s response once more, as she firmly closed the Book of Illusion was, “There’s no Joy and no Anna, no past and no future.”

I sighed and accepted her verdict, having little choice. We went on to discuss my visits with men in Forrest City Prison and her health. As we were walking to the door at the end of my visit, Anna stopped and asked, “Whatever happened to that child in the orphanage?” I explained the situation - that she wasn’t actually an orphan and her mother had taken her. 

Anna smiled. “You’d better go find her.” We both laughed, understanding the assignment mode was switched “on” again - I would go back to Thailand. A week later, my best friend from Thailand, named Younger Sister Joy or Nawng Joy wrote me: “We all here in the community miss you too much here. You have to come back now.” I wrote back and agreed. Nawng Joy is MC Sansanee’s personal assistant. They travel the nation and the world together, spreading peace, feminism and Buddhist principles. So, dear readers….now we begin my final (perhaps) mission under Anna’s guidance. 

Tales From Thailand #2, 2018

I have two stories to share about the great circle of human life - its beginnings and endings. This has been Khun Mae’s (Maechee Sansanee’s) focus for the past decade. Last Sunday (and the first Sunday of every month, for many years) the Serene Mind Project came together. Dozens of expecting couples arrived came to the center in the morning. All of the women are pregnant. Everyone is encouraged to pay close attention to their mindstate, and how it might affect the growing embryo inside. Even our water-bottles at the center carry the reminder: A mother’s womb is the entire world to the child inside.

Husbands and wives sing to the fetuses and practice massage. I always blubber when the mothers-to-be turn around and comfort the fathers with song and massage. So much respect and honor is offered to these young parents-to-be. They receive information about nutrition, the stages of fetal growth, breastfeeding and how to hold and bond with their newborn infant. 

I play pinch-hitter when Khun-mae needs relief from her many hours of speaking on the stage. It’s an opportunity for the hundred participants to stand and laugh and be silly, since they sit for about two hours at a time on the floor. People’s ability to do this (in Asia) is always boggling and humbling, since I - the “meditation teacher” - become a squirmy child after an hour or so. I teach a choreographed song and dance, and gentle yoga during the day. After lunch, everyone lies down for a nap, while a nun plays our giant crystal bowl, which is filled with water. I join in on the flute, strolling amongst the nappers. 

After the forty minutes of prayer bowl, everyone sits up and drinks a cup of the newly charged water from the bowl. To end the day, we climb to the rooftop, the site of the Green Tara Temple. The couples make a wish to the Goddess Tara, while lighting a candle. 

Early the next morning, I took a taxi to the airport and flew to Sakon Nakhon, a city in the north. From there, my friend Ott (the nursing director) escorted me to another amazing place: Watkampramon, also known as Cancer Village. Thus began the rest of this week’s adventures, dear readers, a conscious focus on the other pole of our earthly existence. 

I sometimes pretend I have been to a place before, but in truth, nothing and no place is ever the same twice, nor am I the same. The founder of Cancer Village, known as Luangta, had a stroke four years ago and is still regaining his balance and his voice. He continues to be a force of genius and compassionate enlightenment (and humor!) within this earthy Buddhist hospice movement. No one is denied entrance to this healing center, and the only requirement is that the patient must come with some sort of support team. Feeling supported and loved and whole is central to the theme of healing here, be it healing back to life or into a peaceful passage from this life. 

The patients eat organic vegetables and drink herbal broths. Vipassana and metta lovingkindness meditation, chanting, dance, and music are the central techniques for healing. Most of the staff are volunteers. Laughter is the central currency of the program. Volunteers like me find their own place in the scheme. I asked to share dance, yoga and qi gong in the mornings, and healing massage techniques in the afternoons. Again, I only appear to be the teacher, while I study the courage, wisdom, and ease of these remarkable people. 

The group’s enthusiasm was infectious. It inspired me to find new levels of possibilities, and everyone contributed their movements to the dance. Nothing is more joyful to me, than this kind of communion. 

In the afternoons, I visited with the patients, mostly in the latter stages of cancer, in their rooms. I was accompanied by the current staff of four, two of whom are young alternative medicine interns, studying under the head nurse. My approach, which I’ve practiced for years at Watkampramon, is to massage the patient while the caregiver watches, and then line up the caregiver to massage the patient, while I work on the caregiver. 

Wherever I go, I choose to bring gifts that can be duplicated, and continue their vibrational impact long after I am gone. 

Dying of cancer can be so isolating and lonely for everyone. Patients everywhere are often touch-deprived and starving for this essential human ingredient. I offer permission, by  sharing simple loving massage techniques. One patient who was depressed, cracked a smile as soon as her daughter and I began massaging her feet and legs. One of our staff was playing the guitar and we were all singing. The patient burst into song. These moments are etched into my heart. 

Logic dictated that I shouldn’t practice massage on this woman, because she appeared to be brittle. But Spirit is the ultimate driver of choices in my life, and a minute into this massage, she grasped my hands with such incredible intensity and strength, I knew that she was speechlessly grateful. Her brother was willing to work on her as well. He later told me he had never massaged anyone before. They were both peaceful and happy about this evolution into a new form of bonding. 

By the third afternoon, I realized that the resident staff needed to experience the qi-energetic qualities of loving massage themselves. It must be personally transmitted. After working on them, I was pleased to be the recipient, adding suggestions and lots of encouragement.

Thai culture is pretty shy about touch, outside the world of professionally trained masseurs. I dubbed us the QI TEAM!!, and holding energy between our hands was our trademark. An inordinate percentage of supposedly terminal patients have healed and returned home. Among those who heal into a peaceful death, many seemed to need little or no pain medication. It’s phenomenal enough that the George Washington School of Medicine sent a team of interns to examine the situation years ago. Yet this kind of healing is difficult to quantify, as it’s founded on meditation, faith, and heart energy.