Monday, February 18, 2013

Why Thai?

Recently I returned from my third trip to Thailand. That's right - third trip. I suppose many people do not dare to travel overseas that far and sometimes it is a once in a lifetime trip. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to visit several times, and, fully intend to visit again - soon.

The most frequently asked question is, "Why Thailand?"

Temple in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, 2013
I hear it a lot. I suppose it's a valid question. With such a big world, and as a Yoga teacher, why Thailand? Why not India? Why not Tibet? Why not, well - anywhere else? My first response is a knee-jerk one I'd heard from my college psyche professor. He'd shared a story of taking a final exam with one question: "Why." To which he responded, "Why not?" - and received an "A" in the course. So, when asked why I choose Thailand to travel to three times, I say first, "Why not?" But of course that answer doesn't often suffice. And in truth, it lingers with me a little longer until I wind up asking myself, "Why Thailand?"

Upon further self-inquiry I suppose that the real reason goes back to when I was an infant. Not that I recall the situation, but I've heard the story many times throughout my life. In 1968 my Father, Cornell, was stationed in Duluth, Minnesota. He and his wife, my mother, Georgian, welcomed their first child (this would be me) into the world while in he was in the United States Air Force - during the Vietnam War. A week after my birth, I went back to New Jersey with my mother because my Father was being shipped out to...wait for it...Thailand.

The first year of my life, my Father lived and worked in Thailand, mostly debriefing pilots who had run secret missions into Laos. Stationed in North-East Thailand in Nakhon Phanom, he would ship and bring home gifts and everyday items from this far-away land. I grew up with these items in our home as normal everyday things. Incense burning, a large teak Buddha, furniture with strange characters on it, clothing, formal china with little Buddhas on each handle - all of these surrounded my everyday life growing up and I have to say, it more than stuck with me.
Dad in Bangkok, c 1968

My coming to be a yoga teacher came out of the blue. As a middle management employee at a large company, I enjoyed the stability that I had. But, a weak back due to a car accident led me to a yoga class that set up the rest of my journey to becoming a yoga teacher. Or did it?

Was it that first yoga class that led me to be a yoga teacher who burned incense on the alters of Buddhas in her classroom? Or was it the influence of Thailand throughout my life that led me to honoring Buddha by being a yoga teacher? Or, even deeper still, could it be a past life resonation that spoke to me? Well, anyway, here I am.

My Father had always talked about returning to Thailand. Our first trip there in 2009 was on a Friendly Planet tour, "Treasures of Thailand." It was a great tour company and a lovely experience that we all thoroughly enjoyed. Soon after a student of mine, Yuth, revealed that she was born in Thailand and was interested in returning to visit her Father who still lived there. And, did I want to go with her? Of course I did and so happened what we affectionately call, "Team Thailand 2012." Five unlikely folks journeyed to Thailand to visit Yuth's family and vacation for two weeks. My Father did not travel this time, but so he did this year when we went back again and renamed our new group "Team Thailand 2013."

This time, my Father had one request: to visit Nakhon Phanom. And we did. And, it was, not surprisingly,  completely different. The dirt roads he remembered were replaced with pavement. The former Air Force Base was now the NKP Airport, receiving a whopping two flights in daily. All the former buildings had been leveled, but the tower remains there - eerily overgrown by the jungle. The Makong River with the towering mountains of Laos across it even looked different to Dad. And I'm sure it felt a whole lot different today, sitting leisurely by its side, than it did in 1968.

The journey home from Thailand can be put in one word: painful. It is long. It is uncomfortable. And, did I mention it is long? Door to door we're talking 30+ hours in traveling with a 12 hour time difference. It takes me just about two weeks to recover to the time zone, but even longer to mentally and emotionally come back. I recently joked that in Thailand you have one big question to answer each day: get a massage or go shopping. On a good day (most days for me), I get to do both. The Thai people are so nice and generous - honestly caring that you enjoy yourself and be happy in their homeland. The food is exceptional and healthy. The temperature is always warm and usually sunny - even in the rainy season. The clothes are comfortable and fun to wear. The beautiful Temples peak up from every corner of towns, reminding everyone that life is only complete when it is filled with Spirituality, and that giving of yourself to an idea that is much bigger than you is all that you really need.
Bangkok Temple

So, if you are still asking, "Why Thailand?" I will have to refer to my knee-jerk response, "Why not?" But if you no longer are asking that question, then you get it. You get how sometimes a foreign land can feel like home, maybe even more than home does.

So, who wants to be in "Team Thailand 2014?"

Friday, February 1, 2013

Understanding the Origins of Valentine's Day

February has come to be known for the Holiday of Valentine's Day. I'd heard for many years that this was not a real holiday, that it was a made-up day by the greeting card people. I wanted to know if that was true, so I did a little research and found that there is indeed more meaning to the holiday than our cynical ideas may have conjured up.

Valentine's Day History
Many sources state that the actual Christian Feast of Saint Valentine is most likely celebrated for a few different Saints of the same name. One in particular was said to have been imprisoned for performing marriages to soldiers who had been forbidden to marry, as marriage was considered a distraction from their duties.

There is also much conversation that Valentine's Day, like many other Christian holidays, may have more pagan origins. Lupercalia was a Roman holiday, celebrated on the Ides of February the 15th, as a fertility festival in the name of Faunus, a Roman god. Further fueling this energy, it was believed during the middle ages that February 14th was the beginning of the mating season for birds.

The first Valentine is said to have been sent in the early 1400's, with the credit of being the first to link this day to Romance going to Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem "The Parliament of Fowls."

And so it appears that Valentine's Day has been linked to romance long before Hallmark arrived on the scene. And, you do not have to be romantically involved with someone to appreciate the beauty of this holiday - sending a Valentine to anyone who has touched your heart will certainly warm your own.