Mind Matters — Karma and Psychology

I have been away for a conference called “Creativity and Madness.” Why have an academic meeting stateside when traveling to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Bali is an option?

I presented on the “Rise of the Wounded Feminine in the Media,” using examples from various TV shows and movies, such as The Hunger Games and Whale Rider. Others presented on the culture of Thailand and psychological issues in Bali.

And where does this all converge in a Mind Matters column? I was interested in the psychological stressors and ways of coping the people had in these countries. I can only report anecdotally about the few people I spoke to—especially women. It seemed to me that men in Bali, for example, were more satisfied with life than were the women. So I wondered about the rise of the wounded feminine in the place that tourists call paradise.

While the male tour guides waxed on about how much they loved their life in Bali, for example, despite the fact that no one had any vacation time, the women I met talked about having to juggle child care with work hours. One massage therapist noted that she and her husband worked different shifts so that they could care for their three-year-old son. I asked her, with all the beaches around, if she got to go swimming much. “Oh, no,” was her reply, “we are busy with work and our rituals.” Yes, there are many religious rituals to follow each day. Every Bali home has a small Hindu temple and every day little baskets of offerings are made to place in various corners of homes and shops—these little trays of flowers and food are ubiquitous.

Rituals that support one’s spiritual beliefs aside, everyday life in Bali seemed less paradise, more hard scrabble, to me. Another woman reported that she had three daughters and no sons. That meant that she and her husband would have no one to care for them when they got old.

In Bali, the wife joins the husband’s family in their little compound. This woman I spoke to only got to visit her parents once a month, and in the event of their being disabled, she was hard pressed as to what to do. She was an only child and relied on a cousin to come to her parents’ aid from time to time. She also noted that there was little opportunity for anyone to further their education to become a nurse or a physician unless they had money. Hence, some women masseuses choose to leave Bali to work in Turkey or Russia—they then marry and remain there. Another young sales clerk I met was looking forward to settling in Finland and witnessing snowfalls with her Finnish boyfriend (whom she met in Bali) beside her.

In both Bali and Bangkok, karma and destiny constituted a psychology of acceptance of the way things are. The upside to this is that these people know full well the line of the AA prayer of “accepting what I cannot change”—and they do that with patience and humility. On the other hand, there may be a lack of “changing what I can.” We of the Western World commit the sin of hubris and entitlement, thinking we can change and control and dominate whatever we please. Yet the East may err on the side of accepting their “karmic” lot in life. Both Easterners and Westerners may need a little more wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change!

Meanwhile, I would introduce the West to the Asian patience of driving sans road rage and the ability to smile and be polite in all public places. Throughout Asia we were met with politeness—Thailand is indeed known as the Land of Smiles.

Ah, but we received our literally rude awakening when we arrived at the San Francisco airport. From the United Air ground employee yelling at us to the Americans angered in the passport corral line that my husband had the audacity to want to stand next to me, we were reminded we were home. Stress up, smile and patience gone. What is our psychological or karmic story here, I wonder?