Thursday, July 23, 2015


His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand  
When we first arrived in Thailand, there were a lot of little things that struck me as vastly different because I had spent my entire life immersed in Western culture (and practically no time in Eastern culture). Small things, like being taller than most of the people we pass or like having to throw the toilet paper in a trash can instead of the toilet. But as the days went by and we became absorbed in the Thai culture, the small differences fell away and larger cultural trends became much more apparent.
The largest trend I’ve seen so far is the emphasis on balance in every aspect of life. On our second day here, we took a trip to the Grand Palace. As a group we talked a lot about Thai history and culture, and eventually the conversation ended up on the current monarchy. (For more info on the current monarchy, click here here) We learned that the King and many members of the Royal Family are skilled in both academics and the arts. Interestingly enough, the King was born in the United States and educated in Switzerland, and didn’t return to Thailand until he was about 17. He grew up in a modern Western society, and returned home to rule a society more deep-rooted in tradition. But even as he embraced the traditions he still pursued ways to help the country grow, and found the perfect balance between old and new which has allowed Thailand to thrive. He is well loved and adored by the Thai people, and is known as a strong supporter of education, the arts, and music therapy. Culturally speaking, artistic creativity and academic mindfulness go hand in hand.  If we’re being honest, when I first learned this, I had a hard time believing it. In America, music therapy can be met with a lot of skepticism at first, because we have such a high value on scientific merit while the arts are viewed as an extracurricular for most. In Thailand, people don’t question why it works because the creativity helps maintain the balance in their lives.

A line of meditating Buddhas found at Wat Pho.

As I began to notice this, I looked a little deeper into Buddhism. While there isn’t much exposure to this in the States, 95% of Thailand is Buddhist and many of their cultural nuances are derived from this faith. The Buddha recommends that all people strive to maintain a balance of faith and wisdom, of effort and concentration. This balance is essential to the Buddhist faith because they believe that without balance, a person cannot learn or grow or help others. They also believe that when a person is balanced, it opens their mind up to a world of things that can’t be immediately seen or understood. This relates to the Noble Eightfold Path of having right understanding, speech, thought, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. When one attains balance and moderation of all those things, the Buddhists believe that they have lived a good life and will be closer to Nirvana. (For more information on Buddhism, click here here.)
Of course one can’t stereotype an entire culture based off of a religion alone, but this theme is prominent in Thai culture. Honestly, I think that having balance is something that Americans could learn from their Thai counterparts. In my experience, most Americans (especially the college students we’re surrounded by) find it difficult to balance their lives. Between classes, social life, homework, extracurricular activities, exercise, food, family sleep…we all really, really struggle with finding the balance that will be the best for us mentally and physically. We prioritize and reprioritize, and spend plenty of unhappy time feeling like something is missing. This is unfortunate, especially with all of the future therapists in this category. When we are out of balance we are unable to serve our clients wholeheartedly or be fully present in our sessions. It’s so important, and yet often gets pushed aside. Meanwhile, I think the Thais hit the nail on the head; when one can find balance, peace will soon follow suit.

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