The Mission Continues

After spending a week enjoying the tourist spot of Siem Reap, I’ve decided that it’s time to get back out to the village to finish off what I started.

My time was cut short the last time I was living in the commune and I had to go back to Sydney indefinitely.

After a month, I’ve found myself back in Cambodia and this time I have brought some mates with me to help me complete the project in the commune.

It’s crazy, because when I first came to Cambodia, I had no idea I would end up living in this commune in rural Battambang. When I applied for the role, the people who run the school said it was like fate. I came in during a time of expansion, as the school developed a long term project to build an IT centre in the commune for all the students.

Having technology in this commune would be an absolute boost to the lives of these students. Giving them proper access to the internet where they have a whole world of information at their fingertips could really make a difference to their careers and their lives, and now I’m on my way back there to help make this all happen.

Having your mates from back home by your side to experience this is another thing, altogether. I’ve been proudly showing them around my home and seeing their level of appreciation for a country and culture like this is touching.

Tomorrow, I return back home to the village where the mission will continue.

From West to East

After spending a week enjoying the tourist spot of Siem Reap, I’ve decided that it’s time to get back out to the village to finish off what I started.

My time was cut short the last time I was living in the commune and I had to go back to Sydney indefinitely.

After a month, I’ve found myself back in Cambodia and this time I have brought some mates with me to help me complete the project in the commune.

It’s crazy, because when I first came to Cambodia, I had no idea I would end up living in this commune in rural Battambang. When I applied for the role, the people who run the school said it was like fate. I came in during a time of expansion, as the school developed a long term project to build an IT centre in the commune for all the students.

Having technology in this commune would be an absolute boost to the lives of these students. Giving them proper access to the internet where they have a whole world of information at their fingertips could really make a difference to their careers and their lives, and now I’m on my way back there to help make this all happen.

Having your mates from back home by your side to experience this is another thing, altogether. I’ve been proudly showing them around my home and seeing their level of appreciation for a country and culture like this is touching.

Tomorrow, I return back home to the village where the mission will continue.

Dark Days

Ill never forget the first time I saw this.

It was a stormy afternoon in Siem Reap and I was roaming around to some of the temples in town, gathering some information about the new place in which I chose to live.

I remember a disabled guy, no younger than me who was acting as my tour guide, just to hustle for some change. We stood at the steps beneath this display and he murmured words, nothing that I could fully understand.

The setting was grim, and I could feel the darkness and emptiness within me as I gazed up at the glass window with the bones in it.

I found out that these were the bones of the people who were murdered during the Khmer Rouge. I felt sick to my stomach. I observed the bones and found cracks in the skulls, possibly from the ruthless axing to the heads.

Since this experience, I have come across a display like this twice after and its as if nothing ever changes. You dont grow accustomed to it. You feel that sick sense of sadness deep within your gut, each and every time.

Its so hard to believe that these were the ancestors and the blood of some of my closest friends in Cambodia. I cant even begin to imagine how seeing this display would make them feel.

Why?

Through my journey of deep introspection, I’ve come to learn that knowing the reason why you do what you do is more important than what you actually do.

My medium is ‘This is Philanthropy’ and I document my journey as a humanitarian worker. But why do I do what I do? I’ve come quite far in answering that question for myself. I am on a mission to use my empathy and creativity in order to educate and inspire people to improve their quality of life, help them progress personally and assist them in their pursuit of happiness.

I want to show gratitude to all of you who have been supporting me and following me so far. Every response I receive adds a level of motivation and purpose to my mission more than you could possibly know.

Who Are You?

Who are you?

How would you answer such a question? I assume, most of us would start by giving our names, describing where we are from and then giving a job title.

But, is that really who we are, or is that just the experience in which our body’s and minds are witnessing before us?

Who you were 5, 10, 15 years ago is not the same as who you are today. Your body has changed and so has the mind. So then, how can we be so sure of who we are today?

We are not our body’s and minds. We are not our experiences, our traumas, our personalities, our habits, our thoughts or our feelings. We are simply just watching these things unfold before us.

Who is watching? The consciousness, the observer, the soul. The observer who sits in the very depths of our consciousness, watching these internal and external events unfold. It watches and observes objectively, without any judgement. It is our mind that makes these judgements as to whether an event in life is either good or bad.

However, the observer just sits and watches without passing any judgement.

When a thought arises in the mind or an intense feeling in the body comes to life, the observer gets distracted by these loud waves of energy. As a result, the observer gets caught up and becomes involved in the mayhem.

That is when the observer focuses its attention to the mind, watching it make judgements. The mind is full of attachment, desire, greed, rationalisations and critical thought. When the observer is too focused on the mind, it begins to see some of the catastrophic occurrences within.

Hence why it is important that the observer learns to control where it places its attention.

If we are not our minds and body’s, then we are just an observer, sitting in a seat experiencing a reality in physical, mental and emotional form.

How liberating is it to know that we can break free from the ego, the one that causes us to suffer the most.

A State of Mind

“For if a person shifts their caution to their own reasoned choices and the acts of those choices, they will at the same time gain the will to avoid, but if they shift their caution away from their own reasoned choices to things not under their control, seeking to avoid what is controlled by others, they will then be agitated, fearful and unstable”

-Epictetus

It is not our environment that determines whether or not we experience a sense of peace, tranquility and harmony in our lives. All of these things are simply a state of mind.

Regardless of where we are, whether it is in a major city or a rural village, problems will always arise; problems out of our control, problems brought on through social interactions, problems caused by our external events.

These problems occur everywhere, at any time. However, it is up to us as individuals to understand the importance of using positive judgement in order to maintain this sense of peace and harmony with others.

Therefore, peace and harmony cannot be found anywhere else except for within. Once we can achieve this internally, then we can be better equipped when dealing with unfavourable external circumstances.

It is ones perspective that determines how much of a sense of peace and harmony they carry within themselves. If we can learn how to cultivate more of a sense of peace within, the benefits for us as individuals and communities can be quite profound.

Grandmama

I awoke from my afternoon nap yesterday in a haze. The hot weather is starting to wear me down like you wouldn’t believe.

I was hungry and I was experiencing one of the most intense sugar cravings. They were so intense, I decided to walk down the road to the local markets looking for some mangos to fulfil my desires.

It was there where I spotted Grandmama. She can’t speak a lick of English, but she looked at me as if to ask, “what the hell are you doing here”?

In my half sleepy starving state, I pointed to the mangos at a stand as a gesture to say, “I desperately need sugar and so I’ve come in search of these”.

She looked at me and said, “mango?”, with her eyes now wide open. Suddenly, she piped up and began to shout out me.

I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she kept pointing back at the house. In that moment, I assumed she was telling me off for coming to the shops to buy mango when there was an abundance of mango trees in her own backyard. It reminded me of my own grandmother every time I would reject an ethnic meal she made for me so that I could get my hands on some McDonald’s.

She sent me off just like the referees do when they are fed up with a players behaviour. I walked back home mangoless, but Grandmama compensated by cutting me a whole plate full later that afternoon.

Never fuck with a grandmother when it comes to food. This is a universal law.

“What is the fruit of these teachings?  Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated – tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom.  We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free” EPICTETUS

It is no secret that since the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s, the education system in Cambodia has been in a phase of re-building.  What was completely destroyed only 40-50 years ago, it has placed Cambodia behind most other parts of the world in terms of access to proper learning and training.  This has put a huge strain on Cambodian society as a whole, as education is one the largest contributing factors to the foundational aspects of any society and its ability to progress.  

Since joining FEFA college (Free Education for All), I’ve come to learn many things about not only the background stories of some of the students who attend the school, but also the educational philosophies that are implemented by the teachers of the commune.  

It wasn’t long ago when the head teacher, Friendly was being put through a transformational education program by an Indian psychologist who came to Cambodia as a humanitarian with the goal of implementing his own system of learning for those who were born and raised in poverty stricken circumstances.  One thing that I have come to observe since being in Cambodia is that many of the people lack a sense of self confidence and self esteem. This may be as a result of lack of education, causing a feeling of hopelessness and insignificance among the individuals, internally.

If you are born and raised in poverty, you tend to hold the belief that poverty is what you are destined for.  We all know the power that our beliefs hold over us. What you believe tends to manifest itself into your reality. Therefore, many people who have been raised in poverty stricken environments in Cambodia have known nothing else and so, they are thrown back into this vicious cycle of material and emotional lack.

“We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free” EPICTETUS

I sat down with the head teacher, Friendly at FEFA, and she explained to me the program that she underwent during the time this Indian psychologist came to serve the people of Cambodia.  She said she was “brainwashed”, positively, having developed a new mindset of confidence, self esteem and abundance. This gave her the right tools in order to reach out to those who are struggling to become educated, and help them escape this cycle of material and emotional poverty.

As I watch the movements of the students in the commune, its clear to me that Friendly has implemented a philosophy similar to the one in which got her out of her cycle of lack.  The students are taught many trades, including the language of English to cooking skills and handyman skills. Also, agriculture and gardening is another skill set that is encouraged within the commune.  These students come from poor backgrounds. They are high school dropouts as a result of a lack of funds. So, they come to Friendly for free education and a mother figure who disciplines them and teaches them the value of being full of skill sets, knowledge and wisdom.  

So, how does obtaining all of these skills and knowledge help with one’s self confidence and self esteem?  

“What is the fruit of these teachings?  Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated – tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom”EPICTETUS

I was once sitting opposite a therapist in which I was visiting weekly, a few years back.  I would sit there, pouring my heart out, waiting for her to give me all the answers to my problems.  Self esteem was a huge thing that was weighing me down, at the time. She said, “You are 25 years old, you should have moved away from your parents by now”.  I looked at her confused and asked, “What does this have to do with my lack of self esteem?”. Her response has stuck with me ever since the words came from her mouth – “When you get everything done for you in life, you lose your sense of worth.  You feel incapable of looking after yourself because everything gets done for you. You don’t bother to learn new skills and obtain new wisdom, because your survival simply does not depend on it”.

So, what did I do about this? – I moved to Cambodia on my own in search of independence, wisdom, knowledge and new skill sets.  Through this, I realised a greater level of self esteem.

This philosophy is implemented at FEFA college, where by the students are taught new skills and fed new pieces of wisdom in order for them to become independent individuals of society.  Only then can they learn to break free from their past circumstances and leap forward as confident, valued members of their society.

It is education that breaks one free from whatever material or emotional lack that they luster.  Education should not be a privilege, but a right for all members of the human race. Not only does this bring more of a sense of material and emotional prosperity to each individual, but it also allows for progression, collectively.  

All About Perspective

Journal Entry – 05/04/2019

Last night was the first night I returned back into the commune after spending almost a month back home in Sydney.  I went from sleeping in my one and only bed back home to a yoga mat on the floor under a mosquito net.

How does one transition from one extreme to another in such a short space of time?  I don’t really know, to be honest. You just do it. The way I look at it is, there are parts of everyone’s job that they don’t particularly enjoy.  If you work in an office, you might dread that time of the day when you have to do those tedious tasks, or if you are working on a construction site and you dread those scorching hot days in the sun where you get the life sucked out from you while you put your body through labour intensive activity.  There are parts of everyone’s journey or path that they don’t like, but they do despite the dread, because the bigger picture, the purpose and the motive outshines all of those trivial details.

For me, sleeping on a yoga mat on the floor under a mosquito net in a hot Cambodian village isn’t ideal.  I don’t necessarily enjoy that part of the job. However, I have come to learn new ways of looking at these minor, trivial details.  Instead of focusing on how much I dread waking up with my back sore and my body in sweat, I tend to focus more on how much this will build my character.  

I already had a small taste for the change in character that I have experienced when I went back to Sydney for that one month.  I stayed in my middle class home, driving around in middle class cars, eating at middle class restaurants, yet it all felt like a 7 star vacation, only one that the rich can afford.  This shift in perspective has filled me with gratitude and happiness, and it has changed the way in which I perceive my reality, for better of worse.

They say, “Money is the root of all evil” – How can it be?  Wealth is capable of bringing happiness and health to one’s life, if used correctly.  If money cannot buy happiness, then a lack of surely cannot either. These poor living conditions in the village is enough to make one unhappy.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your perspective.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, they say. I’ve always felt a sense of doom after listening to a statement like that come from someone’s mouth. It adds this extra layer of anxiety to my life, because it’s as if I must rush to make sure I become the perfect man before reaching the age of 30. I’ve heard it many times – “once you hit the age of 30, who you are becomes set in stone”.

Although it is true that it becomes harder for an individual to change after the age of 25, we are now learning that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks. I guess, by the age of 25, you have evolved through the various stages of adolescence and you have become an adult, with a developed brain and body. In that case, changing someone who is already fully developed would be harder than changing an individual who is still in the developmental stages of their life.

When you look at young children, they say that from birth to the age of 7, kids spend most of their time in alpha and theta brainwave cycles, which is the same state a person who is meditating or under hypnosis will experience. These children are in hyper learning states. They are open to suggestion and they are constantly being programmed by their environment.

One way a fully developed adult can experience change is through the experience of trauma. But apart from that, an established train of thought in our culture is that we are biologically fixed. I go back to the idea that the thought of being biologically fixed brings upon a sense of doom. I once held the notion that I was born an anxious person, depressive in nature, therefore I am not wired to be a happy person like some of my happy, go-lucky peers who had no idea why anyone with a university degree and a good family would ever feel upset. We tend to hold these preconceived notions that once the brain reaches maturity, its pointless to try and change it, because if we are fixed, then we just have to cop the fact that we are victims to our unlucky genetic lottery draw.

Then, modern day neuroscience came along to save the day. Thank fuck, right? Scientists are now beginning to realise that these beliefs are some of the biggest myths of modern day culture. But first, let’s go back to the 1970s when the Dalai Lama claimed that a mere thought could change the brain structure. At the time, Western scientists labeled his claim “ridiculous”. The cynical scientists of the West claimed that, while it would be nice to believe that our brains could change, it was just a myth coming from the mystical mouth of the Eastern monk and that even if the brain could change, it definitely couldn’t change from a single thought.

As a result, we spent most of the 20th century neglecting the idea that we could change the structure of our brains, up until recently when modern day neuroscience took a stand and changed the whole game. How did they find their clues? It so happens to be that researches took a trip to streets of London to collaborate with a bunch of taxi drivers.

Researches began studying the brains of these cabbies and found that their brains had significantly larger hippocampi, the brain structure devoted to spatial memory, and this was much larger than the average person.

Okay, but what does that have to do with the changing our brain structure?

Well, it is believed that because the streets of London are not based in a grid format system. Having to navigate your way through the streets of London was like navigating your way through a complex maze, and this requires the cabbies to have a vast internal spatial map. In fact, the streets of London are so difficult that the drivers are required to take knowledge tests upon application.

After this discovery, scientists began to re-evaluate what they once thought about the brain and came to the conclusion that brain change is possible depending on how you live your life.

So, what does all of this mean? In regards to our personal lives, no matter how old and “set in stone” you may like to believe you are, there is always room for change and improvement if you are willing to put in the energy and time. No longer are the days where we sit back and claim to be “genetically doomed” individuals.

If there is a will to change in a certain way, whether that may be in regards to a particular habit, personality trait or temperament, it is possible that with enough force, we are able to amend the mind to the way that is most favourable to us. With this information, it gives us hope that not only can we lead happier lives by changing the way in which we think, but we can also enhance performance and efficiency in our work lives, relationships and our spiritual lives.

Reference:

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor – pg 48-51