Month: February 2016

Accentuate the Positive


It really doesn’t matter where you live, and it almost doesn’t matter under what circumstances you’re living. Every day you have a choice to cultivate gratitude or to find fault in your surroundings. One way leads to happiness or at least contentment, and the other to misery for you and those unlucky enough to find themselves in your presence.


Unfortunately, many of us are convinced that our greatest talent lies in discernment. Nobody’s Fool, we are obliged to point out what’s wrong, who’s lying, and to remember these failings with pinpoint accuracy. We are the avenging angel’s right hand men, helping the day or reckoning as it dawns.


As an expatriate, I am tempted every once in a while to offer my opinion on how the locals run this place. Certain that they’re simply too shy to ask my advice, I formulate advice in my head, ready to share it at the first opportunity. Since Thailand has been in political crisis ever since I first landed at the Bangkok airport in 2008, which only recently had been occupied by thousands of protesters, I have had many opportunities to offer such advice.  Someone who’d been here awhile took me aside and said “whatever you do, don’t say anything about the monarchy.  Nobody wants to hear your opinion regarding that.” I’ve heard it said “the most expensive advice you’ll ever get is free advice” but in this case, not so.


Thailand is the most foreign place I’v ever spent a lot of time.  Central and South America are simply Latin-flavored America compared to this place. As long as I keep my discerning eye focused on what I enjoy about these differences, I’m doing fine. And as long as I keep my mouth shut, I’m doing even better.


sunset decemberr 19



Playing Doctor



Most of my friends here in Chiang Mai are retired guys from North America or Europe. At this time of life, people start to manifest serious medical problems. The scientific term for this is “senescence.”  Growing old. A friend of mine a few years older than me has developed cancer which has spread widely throughout his body, with hundreds of tumors in various sizes causing pain by pressing up against nerves. It’s too late for treatment, so he’s taking pain medication and expects to die sooner rather than later. Another friend in our group contacted him and urged him to read a book that explains how the unconscious mind causes and determines the outcome of disease. Even though I know and like the guy who made this cheeky suggestion, I think it curious that he would presume to offer unsolicited advice at this point.

When I had my heart attack a year and a half ago, a guy I barely knew came into my room and urged me to throw away all the medicines they had sent home with me from the hospital. “Throw them all away! Buy a juicer! Start eating only vegetables!” He was skinny as a rail and seemed slightly off-balance mentally. As well as missing most of his teeth, his clothes were dirty and he smelled like he could use a shower. Since I was too weak to physically kick him out, I listened to his tirade, and breathed a sigh of relief when he left, but I didn’t take his advice.

Since then, I’ve found that this curious phenomenon continues. If I let it be known that I take routine medicines for blood pressure and cholesterol, someone always urges me to stop immediately. In no way am I asking for advice. I’m not proselytizing, but it seems a phalanx of self-appointed experts is always lurking around, waiting for someone weak and impressionable enough to take their advice. One guy told me he got his aging mother off those dangerous drugs by substituting Chinese herbs. I asked him how she was doing now. He said “She passed on a few years ago, but I was able to save her from those medicines for the last few years of her life.”

I have quite a bit of faith in my cardiologist, who is the head to the Cardiology Department at Chiang Mai University medical school, and seems to be a diligent, hard-working, possibly brilliant fellow. He’s certainly nobody’s fool. So when he suggested that I take these drugs, I don’t think he was acting as an unconscious pawn of Big Pharma. But unlike my doctor, the people who so freely offer advice have no training in medicine, attend no conferences, read no peer-reviewed journal articles. They read Facebook posts and watch occasional YouTube videos.

Speaking of Facebook, I have recently run across people who are quite vehement about the following:  despite widely-accepted lies to the contrary, the earth is flat as a pancake, NASA conspires to fool us all with phony missions to the moon and planets, the Nazis were given a bum rap by the Rothschild Zionist conspiracy and are actually great guys, Obama and all other world leaders are complicit in poisoning us with chem-trails spewed from jet planes, reptilian aliens live among us and many of our celebrities are actually shape-shifting reptiles from outer space, Tesla discovered an unlimited, free source of energy which the oil companies hid from us, automobiles can run on water but Detroit hid that from us, cancer is caused by a fungus which can be cured with cider vinegar but there’s too much money at stake to let us know it. There are other conspiracy theories about the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the JFK assassination and the influence of Israel in U.S. foreign policy, but I won’t make fun of those because I believe them to be true. I freely and whole-heartedly share those on my Facebook timeline, and if someone doesn’t agree with me on them, they can keep scrolling.

But I will not urge people to stop taking medicines because the complexity of medical issues irritates me and I consider myself to be uniquely and mysteriously inspired. I do think those things, but the stakes are too high for me to go around playing doctor. So I keep my magical thinking to myself when it comes to other people’s health issues.

Having been educated first by nuns and later by Jesuits, I am well acquainted with the deep, residual effect of daily programming, especially in the first eighteen years of life. Although I prefer to think my cult was more benign than say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Scientology, I still think Catholicism is a cult. Science is refreshingly real in comparison to faith-based baroque systems of belief. A satirical science joke, The Journal of Irreproducible Results has been published since 1955, and originated in Israel, though I don’t think it was a Zionist conspiracy.