Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kreng Jai, Ego and The Self

As usual, comments and email get my mind going. During the night, a few emails trickled in and the one that triggered these thoughts was from a man who questions the "nuances" of kreng jai. Nuance is hard to identify without a root understanding of the core.

So, I sat here with my tea and concentrated entirely on that question. A little bit of mor lam music and a pen and paper brought these thoughts. What is the core? What is the pivot? What makes it work? This is all speculative, of course, and just a smattering of my own thoughts on the subject. As always, I am open to correction or additional tidbits for thought.

My pen started flying and this is what came: It truly is the ability to put the self aside and focus on others. It is more than politeness. It is a healthy balance of ego than we generally see in this individualist-obsessed culture. It is the ability to fully realize and accept that "I" am not the center of the universe, that it's not all about me, my wants, my desires, my ambitions, my "self-esteem" (you have no idea how much I detest that phrase!), my position in the social marketplace, my rights, my identity.

Living in this world is a group effort. Regardless of how much we may want to get beyond this, we do need each other. When I was younger, the radio shrinks and psychology pundits in the media were yapping endlessly about self-sufficiency, making choices for our own benefit without regard to the impact on others ~ that being a good cowboy would lead us all to fulfillment. Self fulfillment and self-actualization became the watchphrases of the day. Instead of the intended result, we instead have a society of alienated, lonely people without any moorings. Divorce rates are higher than ever since we now expect instant gratification, instant intimacy and disposable people. Children are growing up without guidance as everyone is out to seek their own star. We have come to value independence over connection. Friendships are shallow and utilitarian. It was supposed to bring us "freedom". We find wisdom where we can and it would seem Janis Joplin was right. "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." True freedom is something of an entirely different nature.

Social harmony requires social standards and behavior that is predictable. Kreng jai offers social harmony. It offers a grounding influence in an often chaotic and random world.

It also does offer some benefit to the self as well. If I had to do a off-the-cuff analysis of my social relationships today as compared to my social relationships of 30 years prior, I would say that the lovingkindness I experience from others and have been able to offer others in return has increased by several orders of magnitude. I believe people want to express this part of themselves but need to know they are doing it with a safe person who will not harm them for allowing that vulnerability. The quality of my interactions has improved in every imaginable way. Deep listening, right speech, kreng jai and other fairly simple principles have provided me with the ability to have a life worth living, a life that is filled with laughter, joy, compassion, empathy and authenticity. We are a wonderful species, if we just allow our true nature to prevail over a social engineering program designed to benefit a small elite. Think about it!

One final note for my ex-drunk friends watching for updates: V. is fine. He has settled into the facility. It's difficult to know yet whether it is acquiescence or resignation but he seems to have connected with a few other guys and is spending time interacting with them. Physically, he is doing much better. We miss him here at the house, although we certainly don't miss his drunkenness. It will be good to have him back when he gets well.

Wishing everyone true freedom ~

Thailand Gal

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