Further reflections from Thailand: Learning to live with uncertainty

In my last post I talked about transformational change and referred to my Agri-Nature Foundation friends as a living example of this. It sounds radical and some may think painful. It’s only radical if you don’t feel some attunement to the principles of Buddhist belief, or in fact the core principles of all religions. These principles are about care for our earth and all forms of life. And there is only pain if you struggle with uncertainty and change.

One of the main themes for my time in Thailand was uncertainty. I gave a talk, as provocateur, at a session on uncertainty at the adaptation forum. Prior to giving the talk Ajarn Yak and Khun Wipa shared with me a Thai Buddhist saying:

Certainty is Uncertainty

This whole question of uncertainty and responding to rapid change came up throughout the remainder of my time in Thailand. Sometimes it was the source of banter as I travelled with Ajarn Yak and Khun Wipa.

First stop in this post of my post-forum experiences in Thailand is my favourite hotel. There are many good things about this boutique hotel. Most of all the genuine commitment of the owners shines through from use of recycled materials in the bedrooms, the funky artwork, the organic breakfasts, and their rooftop garden. Otherwise ugly concrete buildings can be transformed into urban oases with the right mindset.

The rooftop garden at Phranakorn Nornlen hotel provides ingredients for their organic breakfasts

The rooftop garden at Phranakorn Nornlen hotel provides ingredients for their organic breakfasts

On Saturday 23 October I was collected from Phranakorn Nornlen and we travelled to the Agri-Nature Learning Centre at Maab Ueang, in Chonburi Province. There was a group of about 50 people there on the final day of a 5-day training course. I was asked to speak to them. Inevitably the topic was about our uncertain future with climate change. I talked for a while and then answered their questions. We stayed at Maab Ueang for the next two days, for the initial part of a 5-day workshop on dhamic health. Unfortunately all of the seminars were in Thai (I was the only non-Thai speaker there) and so I missed a lot of the detail. But for two days I experienced a cleansing diet and experienced some other aspects of their programme. I also had the opportunity to talk to participants, prompted by concerns I raised with Ajarn Yak about the plastic waste I noticed as we did rubbish collection duties. This led to me talking to people about the linkages between planetary health and human health, using plastic as an example. The specific examples I gave were the pollution of our oceans and the health effects of Bisphenol A, which is commonly found in drink bottles.

The dhamic health workshop was focused on personal health, but we had an opportunity to talk about connections between personal and planetary health

The dhamic health workshop was focused on personal health, but we had an opportunity to talk about connections between personal and planetary health

Transformational change starts within, with recognition that each of us is both the source of many of the problems we have, and the solution. So long as we treat the problems in the world as external to ourselves we will continue to view external incremental changes as the solution. In many cases these incremental changes simply add to the problems. When we begin to recognise that change starts within we’re on the path to transformation. What we tend to do as humans is use as many external props as possible to eliminate uncertainty in our lives and give us what we perceive as security. This is most evident through consumer behaviour. Simplifying our lives and learning to live with uncertainty are key steps in the process of internalising change and bringing about transformation.

Just when I was settling in to the health programme at Maab Ueang I was told that we were leaving. This happened within the space of an hour. I barely had time to pack my bag. We headed to a nearby town and a restaurant by the river. The cleansing diet came to a rapid end. As the evening progressed there were flashes of lightning in the sky. Despite forewarnings of impending rain we sat there until the thunder was overhead and the rain came pouring down. There was more thunder and lightning the next morning with a flooded street outside the hotel where we stayed.

Local flooding after an early morning thunderstorm, in a week when Thailand experienced serious flooding

Local flooding after an early morning thunderstorm, in a week when Thailand experienced serious flooding

I ought to mention that preceding my arrival in Thailand there had been heavy rains in northern Thailand. This resulted in flooding in 38 provinces with 104 deaths. Throughout my time in Thailand there was constant talk that Bangkok was under threat. Soon after my departure there was further flooding in southern Thailand.

On Tuesday 26 October we were met by Khun Duangdao, a former Agri-Nature Foundation trainee. She is developing the Dheva Resort on the Bang Pakong river, about 45km from Bangkok. This is going to be a new eco-resort with biogas, solar and wind energy, organic gardens and rice fields, a diverse forest, waste recycling. This is one example of the widening influence of Ajarn Yak’s work.

Ajarn Yak with Khun Duangdao (far right) and Khun Wipa at the site of Dheva resort

Ajarn Yak with Khun Duangdao (far right) and Khun Wipa at the site of Dheva resort

After a crazy trip into Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon, to a TV studio to talk about the flood situation, we finally ended up at a place called Ancient City.  More about this soon.  Next morning we were on the road again, at least a 3-hour trip to Chanthaburi Province to the Pong Raed Agri-Nature Learning Centre. The main facilitator here, and now a key member of the network, is Ajarn Teera. Ajarn Teera used to be a chemical farmer, but has completely changed. At the Pong Raed Learning Centre they have gained a lot of experience working with youth, including young trouble-makers. Because of their experience with youth they were hosting a 5-day training session that was about to begin, sponsored by AIS the largest telecommunications company in Thailand. We were there for Ajarn Yak to talk to the participants, and I was also invited to talk for a while.

New arrivals for a 5-day training course representing three schools from the Chao Phraya watershed

New arrivals for a 5-day training course representing three schools from the Chao Phraya watershed

Earlier this year AIS approached the Agri-Nature Foundation about sponsoring a project with schools. The result was that 50-60 schools from the Chao Phraya watershed submitted projects on how they would initiate action to improve the river. The Chao Phraya is the most significant river in Thailand, flowing through many historically significant cities including Bangkok and with a watershed that covers 35 percent of Thailand. From the project submissions 25 schools were invited to send four students and one teacher for a 5-day training session at the Chumphon Cabana Agri-Nature Learning Centre. Each school brought their projects, were taught about the principles and practice of the Sufficiency Economy, and subsequently refined their projects. This training was held in mid October, just before I arrived in Thailand. As a result three schools were selected for a more intensive 5-day programme at the Pong Raed Learning Centre. This time each school was represented by 50 people including students, teachers, school council members and community leaders. The goal for each is to further develop a project that they will take back and action within their communities. The Agri-Nature Foundation will follow through to make sure this is happening.

It was a late return to Ancient City where we were staying. My final day was spent resting at Ancient City and learning something about this amazing place. Ancient City was established by the grandfather of Khun Pan (Kantorn Tongtiw) the current owner. His vision was to preserve the history of Siam, the former Kingdom, for future generations and to develop a living educational resource. Using his own wealth he bought 500 rai (80 hectares) of land on the outskirts of Bangkok, very close to the Gulf of Siam. The land is in the shape of modern day Thailand. He began buying traditional buildings from around Thailand and relocating them to this site. In some cases he built replicas, including the showpiece Sanphet Prasat Palace. The original palace was destroyed by the Burmese invasion and destruction of Ayutthaya in the 18th century. Ancient City has 500 staff and has 500,000 visitors each year. Schools from throughout Thailand come there for school camps. Khun Pan is not simply carrying on his grandfather’s vision. He is building on it. He is yet another member of the Agri-Nature network and is currently developing nine learning stations around Ancient City to educate people about the Sufficiency Economy.

The Agri-Nature Learning Centre at Ancient City

The Agri-Nature Learning Centre at Ancient City

Gardening at Ancient City

Gardening at Ancient City

Getting back to the themes of transformational change and uncertainty, my second trip to Thailand this year has further enriched my understanding of the Sufficiency Economy. I know that I miss a lot with my lack of comprehension of Thai language, but I have still learned a lot. The Sufficiency Economy brings together old wisdom and contemporary knowledge. It encourages individual responsibility and action, and peaceful co-existence amongst humans and with our earth. In Thailand there are a growing number of people who want to be actively engaged in transformational change. Political, health and environmental crises are motivations for change and the Agri-Nature Foundation is providing practical solutions.

Ajarn Yak steering the boat at Ancient City. If the boat is representative of knowledge then Ajarn Yak certainly has a very good sense of how to steer things in the right direction in terms of putting knowledge into action

Ajarn Yak steering the boat at Ancient City. If the boat is representative of knowledge then Ajarn Yak certainly has a very good sense of how to steer things in the right direction in terms of putting knowledge into action

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