Karen, who died in May
I have started to contemplate death properly for the first time. This contemplation began roughly one year ago, when I was in Bangkok. Running late for a Buddhist talk on impermanence, I dodged the heavy traffic as I walked across the road.
Suddenly I saw a man laying on the ground with a sheet over him, surrounded by police tape. He had been killed by a car. I stopped and stared and began to cry. Despite the hectic street, he looked so alone on the cold ground, as the police detatchedly stood around taking witness statements. I thought about his family, who wouldn’t yet have the news that he had been killed. Passers-by hurriedly moved on, and some people even giggled. (I wondered whether this was a nervous reaction to death, or whether it was because of a different relationship to death in Asia in comparison to Europe).
“Smile like you mean it and it will be returned.”
– Nahko & Medicine for the People, Father Mountain
I live in a society that is suffering from a sickness – a society where we are fearful and distrusting of our fellow human beings; a society where any sense of community has vanished and where we don’t have a clue who our neighbours are; a capitalist society where we are conditioned to be individualistic and competitive in order to be the best, as opposed to selfless and giving; a society where we have been brought up to think that it’s okay to bomb and massacre other people because we’re somehow more right and just; a society where our obsession for smart phones and social media feeds our egos and fuels narcissism; a society in which many of us are suffering from epic rates of mental health problems.
Just me and the rice paddies…
I have been travelling alone for one month. Before this, I was travelling with Chris every day, so the feeling of being alone was all the more intense when he left. It’s been interesting observing myself: my feelings of loneliness or contentment, and observing when I have clung to other travellers so as not to feel lonely.
Hiking in the Himalayas above Dharamsala, India – home of the Dalai Lama – in 2008 (me in the middle)
“This place is full of hippies! It’s awful!” I emailed my ex-boyfriend, Tom, back in 2008. I was in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama. I wasn’t interested in Buddhism and I was only up in this village because I had met other travellers heading there. Fast forward six years and I am now writing a blog post about my transition to Buddhism. I would never have predicted it!
2012 has been a year of realisation and self-development, of recognising my faults and of making many mistakes.
I have been reading and learning about the ego, and discovering that many of us let our ego (or our sense of identity) dictate our lives. We have strong opinions: we are ‘for’ or ‘against’ this or that, and we love or hate this or that, thereby creating a strong sense of self. We defend our opinions, no matter how trivial because these opinions give us that sense of identity. The fear of losing this identity often makes us defensive, aggressive and need to be correct.
These ego patterns often rule my life and my relationships with other people. When I feel insecure, or my partner doesn’t have opinions which meet my approval, my ego’s response is to attack, or to manipulate to try to persuade the other person to change their behaviour or opinion. The ego believes that through negativity it can manipulate reality to get what it wants.