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Archive for May, 2010

Humility is to come into the presence of love and find in it that vastness, complexity, and the irresistible – overwhelming power to affect.  It is feeling small and finite in the infinite ocean of Love.   And yet perhaps that is what it is all about, that in the face of Love we find our humanity, in its presence we regain a sense of appreciation of our finiteness.  And within the limit of this finiteness is where one has a glimpse of love.  Perhaps the beginning of love is not to know love but to be known by love.  And when we are known by it, we know. It is not knowing because the logic is right but because our hearts recognize its texture. A couple of years ago I asked my friend how does one know when one is loved.  Her response was, you just know.  I was a little skeptical, but I think she’s right.

There’s also the other very important dimension to Love.  In the profoundest sense its power is its very own irony.  In our human capacity, love is the noblest of our ability to act and it is here too that all acts come to an end.  Love ends at the very act itself.  It does not give less and does not ask for more.  It cannot ask for more.  In all our human capacities, it is what we can and have the power to do.  We act and then we let go of what we may wish as the outcome.  We love and love ends in its very act.  It does not seek to maneuver what the future may hold or what results we could gather.  It is the wisdom of Krishna advising Arjuna in Bhagavat Gita and the dharma goes, (my own interpretation) “Sometimes you have got to do what is right and be willing to face any consequence.”

Good advise, Krishna.  It sounds lofty and ideal. But in the very nature of our humanity, we are humanly weak at times and seeking, at others.  Our hearts are fragile and our spirits yearn for that touch, that affirmation, that look that offers courage, those words that heal so in our very own finite ways we will regain some strength to go on offering love that we do not fully understand, giving compassion in ways that our humanity can offer while striving to learn that the very act of love is its end.

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Sitting across from my spiritual director, I was asked the question, what is it that I really desire?  What is it that lies within the depth of my soul, the longing, and the yearning, and the desire of the heart?  What is it that I come begging God for on my knees?  The Buddha teaches that desire is the root of suffering.  I believe this and I practice this. However I’ve also come to differentiate a very very fine line between desire and suffering.  Pain is not all that bad and at times it has that ritualistic transformative quality that we need in our lives. It changes us.  It offers a perspective that we might have not seen other wise.  It provides a new interpretive len from which we can see life and the world in a new way.  I have come to realize that pain is not always something we want to avoid.  And desire is not something we should seek to rid ourselves of. Desire is part of the very essence of our soul. To rid ourselves of desire may be an act of spiritual suicide. To rid ourselves of desire may result in further alienating ourselves from us.  I suspect that the art is the very ability to maintain that very tension of being fully aware of our desire, of what we want and long for, what we yearn and dream, what we seek and pursue, what we pray and earnestly pray for while at the same time being able to let go.  To want and to know that even if this desire remain purely that very desire without it becoming a reality, it is alright.  To be able to hold on to desire and that touch of pain because pain is bearable and evening meaningful when we really know what our hearts desire.  I suppose that our souls beg us to hold on to desire, holding on with the understanding that outcomes will only take its own course.  It is beyond our scope.  One learns in life that outcomes belong to life and life has a life of its own.  Life synchronizes itself.  A very difficult life’s lesson I’m learning is to trust life, trust that who I am in the very depth of my soul can be caught by the wind of life gliding into the unknown destiny.

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I recall numerous lectures I gave to medical students about the need to journey with those who have been through trauma.  The need to honor experiences people go through even though they may be devastating, depressing, and traumatizing.  To not be enticed to try to move patients from point A to point B. To rush too quickly trying to fix the problem.  To treat point A where they currently are as Sacred even though it is filled with disappointment, despair, anger, and sorrow.  I know in theory but practice is a different story.  I also recall many nights and days when I earnestly pray for God to make things happen in my life, pray that my desired destiny will happen, pray that God will work things out so that I get to do what I think I should be doing.  I was desperately working toward point B.  And somehow in the midst of all these pray er and wishes, I experienced so many disappointments.  Disappointments somehow have a way of forcing life to reflect on itself.  While I knew in theory, it is much harder to look at life and remain in point A.  Yet from the depth of pain comes a way of looking at life.  We often grow up wanting life to happen in a way that is normative, that is linear, that is progressive, that is good the way we define good to be.  And then we grow older and then we realize perhaps the opposite is actually true, life happens to us.  And it is in the midst of these happenings that we learn to navigate life.  A good friend suggested a book for me by Richard Bode, “First you have to row a little boat.” I love this book because it is not about finding that linear path in life. It is about catching the wind from where we are and allow it to guide our lives.  Metaphorically, I find this very meaningful.  Life happens and it seems that what we really need to do is to pay attention to what is happening in our lives and let that happening lead us and guide us.  Life has a serendipitous way of working its way into our soul, if we would listen.  In the lyrics of the song “Voice Within” by Christina Aguilera :

When there’s no one else look inside yourself

Like the oldest friend, just trust the voice within

Then you will find the strength that will guide your way

If you will learn to begin to trust the voice within

Life happens.  Life happens for a reason.  In the later part of his life Carl Jung reminded us again and again, through his concept of synchronicity, that there are reasons why things happen.  Why we cross certain path, why we meet certain people, why we see certain events, why we feel certain emotion, why we happen to go to a certain place.  Life happens and with age I am beginning to learn that I need to move from wanting life to happen in a certain direction to realizing that I need to pay attention to how life is happening in my life.

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It is depressing watching news every day about what ‘s happening in Thailand. What’s worse is when you learn that news are not accurately portrayed especially among foreign news agencies.  We hear reports of military using life ammunitions.  What we do not hear is that there are all types of weapons within the protesters camps, that there are among protesters hardliners who will go to any extend to pursue their agenda.  But that’s not really what I’m planning to write here.  So here’s what I think.

If we were to look at Thailand as a collective body with a collective psyche, we will be able to recognize that this collective self has, through dominant discourse, defines its self identity and its worth through philosophical capitalism.  By philosophical capitalism I mean a place where people are measured by their productivity which, often the case, is determined through material outcomes.  There’s really nothing wrong with this definition except when it becomes the ultimate channel for self-definition that in an indirect manner imposes itself on the collective body.  I do not think that it is consciously intentional but it gets transmitted in a more subtle ways and through these subtle means those who are not within these categories feel marginalized.  Jung tells us that that which is suppressed will never remain suppressed.  It will have to emerge somewhere.  So the primal force that has been suppressed for decades bombarded through mass media has to have an outlet.  Again, when they are not well acknowledged or process, these forces can be brutal and very primal.  And it is the natural process of the collective unconscious.  It shows itself in unpleasant means.  In Jungian psychology, it is not the question of ridding the self of these forces.  It is about recognizing and embracing.  The dark side is not an element to be surgically removed.  The dark side is to be recognized.  The question is how does recognition work?  Perhaps the question can be changed to what is perpetuating these dark side?  I like to think that in different ways, what perpetuates this primal political forces is how our society has come to define for itself what success is and how people are valued as people, how worth is quantified.  And so we have the term the ‘elite’ that belongs to this category.  I think the problem is not that there’s the economically elitist group within our society as much as the lack of other variable for self-definition. It is through this definition of the economic elite that we have the poor and the underpriviledge and the uneducated and the unsophisticated.   This may remain true if and only if it is the only definition.  What is sad to me is that in many ways Buddhism has offered a very different perspective on self-definition that counters this common understanding.  In Buddhism the worth of a person is not determined by wealth nor sophistication.  In Buddhism, a person’s worth is his or her act of compassion and the ability to make merits.  This religion has given Thais other alternatives for self-definition.  If we were to take this definition and apply to Jungian context, it implies natural distribution of human value through expanding definition of self and what it is worth.  In this definition there’s the dark side is no longer dark, the marginalized find themselves within the margin, the force is tamed and absorbed into the collective conscious of the unconscious self.  Taking this analysis further, what needs to change may not be political system that we see through those striving on the streets in Bangkok.  It is the dominant discourse that may have to be redefined.  Wealth or the lack thereof does not determine a person’s worth.  This worth needs to be rooted in something that transcends itself.  Just a thought.

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A friend wrote and asked if I had read Men are from Mars.  I told her I actually listened to John Gray when he came to Loma Linda to present.  She asked if I had learned the phrase “Yes Dear.”  I said “Yes” and went on to describe its complexity. Thinking about “Yes Dear,” makes me wonder about Venus.  I recall the lyrics:

The goddess on the mountain top,
Was burning like a silver flame.
The summit of beauty and love,
And Venus was her name.

What is it about Venus that is so mesmerizing, so tempting and appealing to men?  During my visit to Rome I was aware of the strong patriarchal environment of the institution and the country in general.  It was masculine…the obelisk, the Colosseum, the patriarchal system of the church.  What was fascinating was the presence of Mary.  As I entered the Vatican, the first sculpture to my right was Michael Angelo’s Pieta portraying Mary’s grief over the body of Christ.  I began to sense more of her presence in this country and wondered why Mary in the midst of Patriarchy?  I was reminded again of Jung’s archetype of gender, of how masculinity is never complete in itself, that in every man lies the need for femininity. Initial confession on my part will have to be the acknowledgement that I’m not a feminist in the traditional sense of the word.  Although, what is traditional anyway? But I’m intrigued by the symbolism that feminine carries and particularly at the archetypal level.  The Chinese’s yin represents shadow, curve, water, empty space while the masculine yang is portrayed as strong, linear, bright, solid, and filled.  The beauty of the feminine lies in what it can accommodate and its ability to transcend that which is normative. In a sense it is gentleness and grace. It is compassion.  It is care that grants permission.  It is safety and sacred.

I live most of my life in a masculine world in my career and the arena of public discourse. The world where we constantly have to prove ourselves, the world we have to compete with, the world where  we have to fight to have our self definition be aligned within the realm of the normative, the world that has little rooms for pathologies, the world where life has solidly been defined for us.  While it is fun and challenging to pursue this linear agenda in order to pad ourselves in the back, it is also very tiring.  So every man has to fight his demons and slay his dragons so as to affirm his masculinity not realizing in many different ways that perhaps most of the time these dragons are digitally generated by our social imagination.  It is the matrix.  It is sad as well when our social agenda have caused women to be caught up in the masculine world.  What we often do not realize perhaps is that what completes masculinity is the feminine.  That’s what I really like about Da Vinci Code.  Not the historical critique of the institution but the portrayal of the feminine aspect of God, the compassionate finiteness and the humanity of Jesus.  The place of grace and space, compassion and care that complete masculinity.  It does not matter how many dragons we have slayed, if the presence of the feminine does not exist, we will keep pursuing demons and dragons and the 1,000 dragons can never bring satisfaction because the linear logic has blinded us from recognizing the curvy dimension, the much needed feminine qualities.

So recently I was in Venus. Of course I have been here before in different ways and forms through different people in my life. But this time there is an added dimension of quality that generates different texture to the experience of femininity.  I met an old friend whose presence and hospitality offered a glimpse of a different dimension of the feminine (perhaps every person’s context may require different configuration of the feminine).  It is one of those moments that creates new experiences, experiences that mirror parts of me I am not aware of.  The presence that carries the symbol of the feminine has inherently a subtle quality to generate its own influences because it is transcultural.  I suppose all that one is able to do is to hold on to such memories and allow them to unfold themselves within one’s journey.   Where it leads, one can never tell except that it births a path that will unfold itself.  It is what it is and where it ends, one can only know what it was like to be in those moments.  Here the dragons are tamed and the demons have no tricks.  There is no battle to be won and the castle is just around the corner.  And yes wandering in Venus, the sight of Mars looks very pleasant indeed.

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When one starts exploring social issues, one becomes more aware of their complexity.  This was true for me when I started out looking and researching the topic of human trafficking.  The dark side of human trafficking is more complicated than just mere black and white dichotomy.  There are many shades of gray in between.  The public discourse on the topic some time has over dramatized the issue.  Not that it isn’t bad but dramatizing distorts the actual picture and may cause greater harm to victims than not.  So here are some points that I believe need some clarification.  

1. According to the 2005 report by the International Labor Organization, of the 9.5 million in forced labor, only 10% of these were victims of sex trafficking. The overemphasis on sex trafficking can generate its own problems. David Feingold (2005) offers an example:

The focus on the sex industry may galvanize action through moral outrage, but it can also cloud reason. A recent example is the unsubstantiated press reports that tsunami orphans in Indonesia’s Aceh province were being abducted by organized gangs of traffickers. How such gangs could operate in an area bereft of roads and airstrips remains unclear, but that did not stop some U.S. organizations from appealing for funds to send “trained investigators” to track down the criminals. Although the devastation wrought by the tsunami certainly rendered people vulnerable—mostly through economic disruption—investigations by the United Nations have yet to identify a single confirmed case of sex trafficking.

2. Sometimes traffickers just transport recruiters to their destinations and do not know what happen at the final destinations.  Sometimes they do care about the people they smuggle into another country.

3.  Sometime the definition of trafficking itself becomes problematic. 

 The concepts of smuggling and trafficking are often confused.  Particularly for the situation of girls who cross the borders from Burma, Laos, Cambodia and

China into Thailand, it has been said that girls are not trafficked, but they become trafficked.6  Technically in many cases, the girls and women agree to be transported across a border (smuggled) to work as prostitutes, domestic servants and factory workers, but become “trafficked” when there are elements of force, fraud or coercion in the transaction. This includes girls and women who may know that they will be prostitutes in Thailand, but when they arrive, they find themselves in conditions they did not expect. This is the problematic nature of the concept of trafficking, which must be taken into account if anti-trafficking policies made are to be effective.  The problem in the Mekong sub-region, as in many other places,s is that it appears that, in the vast majority of cases, the actual movement across borders, by and large, is “voluntary” in the sense that the person has made the decision to travel for work, within the often limited range of choices available. It is the end outcomes—the nature, the terms and conditions, of work at the destination point, which defines most cases as trafficking.[1]

 4. Then there is the issue of statistics: Under the heading FACTS in LibertadLatina.org:

 Brazil is considered to have the worst child sex trafficking record after Thailand. According to the recently released Protection Project report, various official sources agree that from 250,000 to 500,000 child live as child prostitutes. Other sources in Brazil put the number at up to 2,000,000 children.[i]

 And in Wikipedia, it states, “Thailand and Brazil are considered to have the worst child sex trafficking records.”[ii] If you look at the citation, you will find reference to LibertadLatina.org. Pasuk Pongpaijit, professor of economic in Thailand, pointed out that various studies on prostitution in Thailand cited numbers ranges from 65,000 to 2.8 million prostitutes.[iii] According to 1990 population census in Thailand, 8.3 million women were in the fifteen to twenty-nine age range, which is the most common age range among sex workers.[iv]  Further, prostitution is an urban phenomenon.  If there are really 2.8 million prostitutes, it implies that 24 percent to 34 percent are sex workers or every women in urban areas of Thailand.  Jenny Godley, in 1991, estimated the number of sex workers at 700,000 in this age range or roughly 24 percent of urban women.[v] Sittirai Veerasit and Tim Brown’s ethnographic studies in 1991 estimated the number to be between 150,000 to 200,000, or 1.8 to 2.4 percent of the women in this age range and 6.3 to 8.3 percent of urban women.[vi]  When it comes to child prostitution, approximately 17 percent of prostitutes visit health clinics.  Based on this figure, Phasuk Phongpaichit estimated the number of child prostitution to be at 25,500 to 34,000.[vii]  If the estimation of child prostitution cited by Wikipedia is correct in stating that Thailand has the worst child sex trafficking record (250,000 to 500,000) and factoring in the fact that of the 2.8 million women within the age range of fifteen to twenty-nine live in the urban areas, we are looking at an unrealistically high percentage of children in prostitution.  If we were to hypothesize that one-third of the 2.8 million are below the age of 18, we are looking at one in every two or one in every four children from the age of 15 to 18 in urban areas. 

 Last year while I was interviewing various NGOs and GOs on the issue of human trafficking, the first two things I became aware of were: sex trafficking is only a small part of the problem of human trafficking in Thailand and that no one really wants to talk about numbers. 


 


[1] Christina Arnold and Andrea M. Bertone, “Addressing the Sex Trade in Thailand:

Some Lessons Learned from NGOs, Part I,” Gender Issues, Winter 2002, 32.

[i] http://www.libertadlatina.org/LA_Brazils_Child_Prostitution_Crisis.htm.  Access Jan 12, 2010.

 [ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking.  Access January 12, 2010.

 [iii] Phasuk Phongpaijit, Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, and Nualnoi Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, and Ganja: Thailand’s Illegal Economy and Public Policy (Chiangmai, Silkworm Book, 1998), 200.

 [iv] Wathinee Boonchalaksi and Philip Guest, Prostitution in Thailand (Bangkok: Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, 1994), 29-33.

 [v] Jenny Godley, “Prostitution in Thailand,” in NIC: Freezone of Prostitution (Bangkok: Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, 1994), 148.

[vi] Veerasit Sittirai and Tim Brown, Female Commercial Sex Workers in Thailand: A Preliminary Report (Bangkok: Thai Royal Red Cross, 1991).

[vii] Phongpaijit et al., 200.

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Often when people read the term ‘do nothing’ as often appeared in the writings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, they often think of inactivity or total passivity.  I think this is where conceptually it is really not what it appears.  There is a deep psychology that both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu propose.  There is a significant difference between doing because we are not where we supposed to be, doing out of a sense of dishonoring the self, doing because we do not like who we are.  In contrast Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu suggest that for doing to be authentic, that doing needs to emerge from a sense of self that is comfortable with itself, the sense of self that is good-enough.  To do in order to fix the self is a type of doing that is being generated from conflict.  To do from a good-enough self is authentic sponteniety. It is a kind of doing that is free and not doing in order to fit in.  What it does is that it offers a person the ability to pursue what is most important for him/her instead of doing that is subconsciously forced by communal sense of normalcy.  In a sense it is an extraordinary type of ordinariness.  It is ordinary in a sense that people may view it as such.  But it is extraordinary because through it we have become free to invest in that which really matters to us.

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