Published on December 16, 2007
January Attend to the spirit
Attend to the spirit
A new year may be imminent, but unfortunately life's ups and downs will continue. As for the low points, though, "Suffering is for seeing, not for being," points out Maechee Sansanee Sathirasutra of Bangkok's Sathira-Dhammasathan Meditation Retreat Centre.
Tension, anxiety and depression over life's daily problems can be eradicated through meditation. Studies have found that those who meditate have more activity in the part of the brain linked to positive emotions, as well as a higher level of antibodies fighting off illness.
Thailand is blessed with many opportunities to practise meditation and find your own inspiration for spiritual development, all the more necessary in the world today. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
l DhammaThai.org offers a guide to meditation centres across the country and describes, in Thai and English, their styles of practice.
l SdsWeb.org is the website of the Sathira-Dhammasathan Meditation Retreat Centre, a place of spiritual learning for women and parents, with activities every weekend.
l Join in the dharma discussions at the International Buddhist Meditation Centre at Wat Mahadhatu in Tha Prachan - (02) 629 0109, extension 1, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. There are free, English-language sessions on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month.
l IntlMedClub.org is the source for information on activities held year-round, including meditation workshops and full-moon beach retreats, conducted in English by experienced instructors from overseas.
l Particularly for women, Songdhammakalyani Temple in Nakhon Pathom province - see ThaiBhikkhunis.org - offers basic Buddhist knowledge and practice in three-day training sessions three times a year. You can learn about chanting, walking meditation, ch'i kong, yoga and much more.
l Visit ThaiPlumVillage.org to discover a global Thai meditation-retreat community that follows the teachings of Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. There are monthly activities in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Slow down your life
Feeling overwhelmed with the competitive, fast-forward life? A bigger pay packet is one thing, but if you earn it with stress, illness and damaged relationships, it's probably not worthwhile.
For 20 years Montira Chudabhuddhi helmed Praew and Praew Sudsubda magazines and GMM's EOToday.com, but three years ago she shifted gears and started working for the non-profit Spiritual Entertainment Co.
Through its Cream magazine, she was contributing to society's health by focusing on four dimensions of teenage happiness - life, love, learning and entertainment.
Her salary was half of what it had been, but Montira now has a nourishing life with double the happiness. "Living a slow life, for me, doesn't mean doing fewer things, but I have more freedom to choose what I do or don't do," she says.
To be sure, slow doesn't necessarily mean slack. Give time to yourself and listen to your inner voice telling you what will make your life more meaningful.
Be a volunteer
Time and again you've heard people say that becoming a volunteer has given their lives fuller meaning. Maybe it's time for you to find out for yourself if giving really is the best way of gaining.
Dr Parichwan Chansiri gains when she gives. The president of a Chulalongkorn Hospital-Buddhika Network volunteering project that helps sick children recently arranged for 40 medical interns to administer palliative care among terminally ill patients.
"The patients can be your teachers if you're willing to open your heart to learn," Parichwan says. "We learn how they remain happy despite being sick. We give strength to each other."
Among the many websites that promote a wide range of volunteer work, from social causes to environmental care, check out VolunteerSpirit.org, NGOBiz.org, Give2All.com, SiamVolunteer.com and BudNet.info.
There's plenty we can do to help save the planet. Thitinant Sristhita, author of "Loke Ron: Took Sing Ti Rao Tham Plean Plang Lok Samuer" ("Global Warming: Everything We Do Can Change the World"), points out that Thailand ranks 22nd in carbon-dioxide emissions out of 209 countries.
The little things definitely count. Thitinant takes a bowl of her own to work for her lunchtime meal so the vendors don't use plastic bags, and at the supermarket she always puts her groceries in a fabric bag.
"It might be a slight inconvenience, but it's a big part of the solution," she says.
A plastic water bottle takes 1,000 years to decompose - obviously it's better to use glass, which can be recycled. Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent tubes, plant trees, unplug any appliances that aren't being used, drive less - and when you do drive, decide first on the shortest route - or better still, walk or bike.
Meanwhile, four young people from the non-profit Volunteer Spirit Organisation, also known as Jitasa, make notebooks from pages of paper of which only one side has been used for writing. Look for their "Paper Ranger" notebooks in the stores.
And drop by TK Park on the seventh floor of CentralWorld in Bangkok, where until January 21 a group of artists, designers, writers and children are demonstrating "1,000,000 Ways to Stop Global Warming". Today at 1pm, anyone aged three to 20 is invited to join a workshop on "art for the environment".
Map out your mind
This busy, modern, multitasking life demands organisational and memory skills, and one way to keep all of your thoughts and plans sorted out is using a mind map.
These diagrams can be hand-drawn or done with the help of free computer software, and they'll allow you to see how everything in your life at the moment links up. Ideas and tasks are arranged radially around a central keyword, facilitating study, organisation, problem solving and decision making.
To begin with, follow these tips from mind-mapping guru Tony Buzan:
l Start in the centre of the page with an image of the topic, using at least three colours.
l Use images, symbols, codes and dimensions throughout your map.
l Select keywords and print them using upper- or lower-case letters.
l Each word or image must sit on its own line.
l The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
l Make the lines the same length as the word or image.
Healthy eating -
try GI foods
Eating healthily is easier said than done, but the old adage "you are what you eat" is even more relevant in a world in love with deep-fried, grilled and fast, fast food.
One alternative that's caught on in Britain is GI food - not the grub that soldiers eat but glycaemic index food.
The glycaemic index measures the ability of a carbohydrate food to increase the level of glucose in the blood. A food with a high GI will cause a fast rise in blood sugar.
Having a high blood-sugar level over a long term can damage the small blood vessels in the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes, increasing the risk of disease.
Since the body takes longer to absorb the carbohydrates from low-GI foods, your blood-sugar level remains steadier between meals. Foods with low GI - which also fend off hunger - include apples, oranges, pears, beans, peas, pulses and lentils, porridge, bran cereals, sugar-free custard and peanuts.
High-GI foods include white and wholemeal bread, brown and white rice, corn flakes and baked and mashed potatoes.
Check your health, sir?
Career people over 30 years of age should try getting a check-up annually as a way to gauge their fitness and detect physical conditions that might lead to serious illnesses.
Many hospitals now offer check-up packages that are inexpensive, reliable and quick. Among the most popular are those that survey your lipid profile (cholesterol, triglyceride, HDL and LDL), blood-sugar level and kidney and liver function.
Don't overlook the importance of an annual check-up, because it's the only way to see if you have high blood-cholesterol or sugar levels that could trigger serious consequences like diabetes and stroke.
So sparing one day in a year for a check-up could just make sure you live longer!
Organise that clutter
It happens to everyone: old pans stacking up in the cupboard, magazines gathering dust under bed, never-used clothes in the wardrobe - stuff you no longer need but keep anyway.
But clinging to clutter keeps you from making the most of today.
To de-clutter, ask yourself, "Do I use it?" or "Have I used it in the last year?" Of course there's always going to be room for the things that involve special memories, but this is about the pointless stuff. When you come across one of these items, the question should be: "What's the worst thing that could happen if I didn't have anymore?"
And remember, de-cluttering doesn't necessarily mean a big job for the trash man. Consider recycling your stuff, donating it to charity or even selling it. The people on eBay will buy anything.
School uniforms? Drop by Bannok.com/2hands. Old bicycles in decent shape? Rural children are waiting at ThaiCycling.com. Wheelchairs and crutches will always be useful at Nontapum.com. Computers, CPUs and keyboards can find new owners at WSK.or.th.
Balance your life and career
Longer hours at work means fewer hours at home. Striking a balance is quite a feat. In Thailand, researchers have found, only three out of every 10 working people are completely satisfied with the way their lives are balanced.
Time to figure out what matters to you most and make a plan, always keeping in mind that you work to live, not live to work.
Working mum Sasithorn "Laura" Wattanakul has been a TV emcee and producer, but her real fun has come from raising her daughter Monica. Her wish that every mother has as much fun has fostered a pair of television shows, "Mrs Laura" - about the working-mother lifestyle - and "Monica Pai Tiew" ("Outings with Monica"), in which her daughter presents segments on other youngsters.
"Raising my daughter while working, though it's not an easy task, makes for a profitable life," says Sasithorn.
Make time to exercise
You can't change your life without improving your health. The usual excuse is "not enough time", but of course if you give yourself the time for a daily workout, you're adding years to your life.
Thanks to the proliferation of yoga studios and fitness centres and even aerobic dancing in public parks, the opportunities to improve your health abound.
And if you can't exercise every day, do it three days a week, making sure it's for at least 30 minutes per session.
The easiest way is jogging, which affords both physical and mental benefits. Most people take up running to lose weight, but it also slows the muscle and bone loss that occurs naturally with age, helps fight disease by strengthening your cardiovascular system, and gives you a dynamic psychological boost.
You'll become more self-confident too, less stressed and naturally high, since the endorphins that get stirred up by running are the body's natural antidepressant.
Try something extreme
Put a spike of fun in your life by trying an adventure sport. They're not necessarily expensive and they're not always "extreme" even if they say they are. And all of them are quite safe if you're in experienced company.
In Thailand, if you head south you get rock climbing and scuba diving. Go east, you get white-water rafting. Go north, there's mountain biking.
If you have extra money, head to Australia and try skydiving, hang gliding, surfing or water skiing, or get a jolt of jet-boating therapy in New Zealand's Shotover River Canyon.
And if you have Bt100,000 to spare, head to Russia's Zhukovsky airbase just outside Moscow for a supersonic ride in a Mig-25 jet. They'll take you up to the Karman Line at 100 kilometres above the Earth's surface, where you can see the edge of space.
Don't forget your video camera - a lot of this fun is once-in-a-lifetime stuff!
Start a business
In these economically volatile times, says the Wall Street Journal, you need to make something or sell something. Just having a basic career is no longer a guarantee of financial security.
So instead of padding out the CV working for someone else, why not try writing a business plan and becoming your own boss?
The notion usually comes along when retirement is imminent, but the best time to think about opening your own business is when your career is coasting.
Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Can you see yourself running a yoga studio or beachside resort or speciality shop?
The best strategy to begin with is to divide demand into manageable market niches. Offer specialised goods and services that will attract a specific group of customers.
Study the market carefully and pick the opportunity that's right for you and ripe for your area and expertise.
Sure, there's risk involved, but with good planning and preparation and your own know-how, your chance of success makes it worth taking a shot.
Sunday Style team