The Practice of Humility

In our fast-paced digital, increasingly technologically oriented world, it is so easy to take things for granted. As a practicing therapist, I often encouraged my clients to practice ‘mindfulness’. We spend so much time and energy focusing on the past or the future, leaving little time to really capture and enjoy the present.  Frequently we see what we expect to see. Our attention may be focused in one direction, so we might miss what’s right in front of us. I need to remind myself of this.

My husband and I fight. My son’s a butthead. Too many rainy, gray days discourage me from enjoying activities. The internet’s to slow. My dog is in pain. I worry about my children’s futures. I’m anxious about the economy.  When did that sagging skin appear? I’m overwhelmed by the violence, poverty, and hatred in the world.  The list is endless. See how easy it is for negative thoughts to manifest themselves?

 I remind myself of the serenity prayer. “G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Truer words were never spoken.  It’s time to focus on the positive aspects of my life. Truly there is much for which I am grateful.

My family is healthy. While our house need a lot of work, I’m happy we have a house in which to live.  Seeing the mountains on the horizon is spectacular. My husband is supportive. I have the freedom to espouse my views. I’m appreciative that I have choices…what or where to eat, what do read or watch, which car to drive, where to go. I have the means and ability to travel.  I’m thrilled to have the privilege of glimpsing other cultures.

Travelling to Myanmar was a humbling experience. With a repressive military government for almost 50 years, the country suffered enormous hardships and world isolation. It is inspiring to witness the dawning of the modern age arriving in Myanmar. As in much of the world, there is  tremendous poverty. Many don’t have indoor plumbing. Health insurance is non-existent. Most people don’t get past middle school. In spite of those hardships, the people are friendly. They are quick to smile. Tourists are welcomed. Rather than focusing on what’s missing, they appear happy for what they do have. Family is important. Parents care for, and make time for their children. It’s safe for women to travel alone. What I did not see was the omnipresent sense of entitlement that is all too pervasive in our culture. We had a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with some locals. The common thread is optimism for the future.

So I am truly blessed to be born in a relatively stable part of the world where opportunities abound. I’m grateful for having had loving parents who gave me a sense of belonging, the ability to question,  and showed me the importance of education. I’m indebted to my family for their unwavering support and encouragement.  I’m thankful to enjoy laughter. The happy smiles of my grandchildren as they play are heartwarming. Taking  the time to look, I see reasons to feel gratified everywhere. With every fiber of my being, I am truly grateful to be alive. 

I’d love to hear about what makes you feel blessed.

The Joy of Freedom
The Joy of Freedom

 

Taunggyi Fire Festival

Taunggyi Fire Festival, Myanmar
Taunggyi Fire Festival, Myanmar

 

This fire balloon festival, lasting 7 days, is held every year in Taunggyi. Celebrating the end of the rainy season, it coincides with the first full moon after Buddhist lent. The hot air balloon competition, day and night, attracts tens of thousands of visitors.  Teams prepare for months creating intricately designed paper balloons.  Daytime is more sedate…a great time for families.  Hot air balloons in the shapes of animals such as parrots,  cows, elephants are launched. There are also stalls with games, rides, and plenty of food.

Nighttime is when the real excitement occurs. Men danced with each other as they waited for the next balloon preparations to commence. Some balloons are attached with hundreds of candles. Fifty kilos of fireworks are attached to other  paper balloons,  setting off a sparkling array of blues, reds, oranges, yellow, and purple light shows as the balloons are launched. Visitors beware! This can be dangerous. Our guide warned us to be aware of which way the wind was blowing, and cautioned us about getting too close. Thinking he was being overly cautions, I only listened with half an ear.  As we watched a balloon being fired up to launch, suddenly the wind shifted. The balloon hadn’t quite launched when the fireworks were triggered sooner than planned, shooting out arbitrarily into the crowd.. Adrenaline surged as people stampeded to get to higher ground. Luckily no one was hurt. The firemen on site got the situation under control. From a safer distance we watched the balloon soar upward, spraying it’s dazzling array of fireworks in it’s wake.

The balloons launch approximately every 2o minutes. During the break we meandered through the stalls. The scents of fried food and incense fills the air. Different genres of live music can be heard…from rap, to pop, to more traditional Myanmar melodies. Beer, rum, gin, and whiskey are sold almost everywhere.  Many of the games are typical of carnivals and fairs. For a few Kyet (pronounced chet) you can try your hand at winning prizes. The Ferris Wheel was quite an interesting site. It’s powered manually. With increased fascination we watched as 10 young men climbed up the spokes of the 50 foot structure, using their bodies as momentum to power the wheel.  Hearts thumping we observed some of them swinging from the bars as the wheel spins toward the ground, as others, upside down, swayed between the bars.  To  stop, they dangle from the back of the chairs to slow down the force. Dang….that would never fly in the Western world.

All in all, the festival was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. In the Shan state, the mountain town of Taunggyi is about an hour ride (longer with traffic) from Nyang Shwe/Inle Lake. Transportation can be arranged for about $12.00.

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Ferris Wheel at Taunggyi Fire Festival
Ferris Wheel at Taunggyi Fire Festival