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Power, Strength, Fear and Aggression: A New Understanding

Pichest Boonthumme – My teacher. How lucky I am. To have someone I can call Teacher. Ajahn as they say here in Thailand.   Some students came to visit the “Master” as they said. They read about him and wanted to get a treatment from the Master and learn from him too. My friend greeted the students when they came in the room looking for the Master. Oh, the Master!, she said, yeah, he’s out back smoking a fag, in her Australian / British mongrel accent.   Needless to say, they didn’t get a treatment from the Master. But they did get an earful. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they left in tears as Pichest ripped into them.   Sometimes a good verbal slap is the most compassionate act one can bestow on someone. I appreciate it that Pichest smokes like a chimney. I appreciate it that he could care less if someone likes him.   I appreciate how he is flawed and human and yet, at the same time, he has a genius, a sensitivity and a kindness that is unlike any other I have met. I thank Pichest for continuing to inspire me and teach me in ways that are often surprising and often humbling.

I came to a new understanding on this trip. For the first week or so I was really confused and upset. He clearly put people who had very aggressive practices on a pedestal. Someone who was really aggressive would work on him. . . pushing, straining and going really deep. I was closely watching the people to whom he gave ringing endorsements of with the occasional “amaaaaazing”, “super” or thumbs up. They were working so hard, doing the exact opposite thing that I thought I had been taught by him. I mean, after years of practice, my great take aways were things like “connect, relax, sink, breathe, don’t do buffalo work, don’t do work that causes you to sweat, work smart and focused, pay attention to your client and be sensitive to what they need. . . etc etc”. So when he was giving these incredibly aggressive workers two thumbs up, I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. They were sweating, they were pushing, they were working hard and causing a lot of pain to the receivers. In fact, at times, I became quite upset about it as I saw people take punishment that I believed was potentially quite dangerous. At the same time, I saw Pichest work and although for some people he does cause some pain, he doesn’t do it on everyone and in fact his work is clear, relaxed, connected, methodical and sure. Where was the disconnect here? Why was he condoning this sort of behavior? Couldn’t he see that people were getting injured or that their nervous systems were being completely overwhelmed by the punishment their bodies were taking? There was a guy who showed up one day who was really in bad shape physically – out of shape, overweight, just there to get worked on – not a student, just someone who heard about Pichest and figured he’d go there to see if he could help him. This guy, after a strong 30 or 40 minute treatment from Pichest, was given over to a student of Pichest’s who will remain nameless and experienced about three hours of what seemed to me like brutal torture. I was seriously concerned that he was going to go home and have a heart attack that night.   I was so angry and upset that I had to leave the room for a good part of the day so as not to be overwhelmed by the ridiculous energy in the room that day. Why was Pichest saying by his non-intervention that this was OK? Was it just a Thai cultural thing (Thai’s are notoriously non-confrontational)? Or was there something else going on there that I wasn’t seeing?

I brought this question to my friend Anne Golla, a Rolfer and bodyworker who has been studying with Pichest for a while and in fact, at the time was living in a little bungalow on Pichest’s property.   A little background: One of Pichest’s most well-known quips is “too much thinking!” Another is, “too much emotion. . . make nervous, worried, scared, afraid”. This is fundamental to Pichest’s way of thinking. That it is emotion, fear, too much thinking that causes so much suffering for people. Of course that makes sense in a general way and I think (ha!) most people would agree with that. But in its application, what it means is that when we are working with someone in a healing space, if we are “thinking” or “worried, scared, afraid”, that comes across as a lack of confidence; a lack of clarity. And if the person who is responsible for creating that safe space for someone is unclear or lacks confidence, then you end up with nothing but two confused and scared, nervous, worried, afraid people. Pichest will say, “you have problem and client has same problem, what to do? Cannot helping!” In other words, it’s a simple case of the blind leading the blind. And it leads to his perhaps most salient and underlying message which is, do the work yourself. Heal yourself. You created the problem in your body / mind, and it’s up to you to figure it out and fix it. But we are constantly looking “out there” for help, when what we really need to do is turn our awareness “in here” in order to listen and become clear. But we are so distracted by all the enticing stuff that we see, hear, taste, feel that we end up with “mad, sad, ego”. “I want, I want”. And then we get attached to things and this attachment is the cause of our suffering. So, he says, as Buddhists do, close the sense doors and turn the eyes inward. And quit being so taken by the bright lights and enticements that make us like pinballs, shiny light syndrome, monkey mind, mouse mind, and all that.

But, I digress. Getting back to why he seems to like aggressive bodyworkers so much (even though he isn’t one himself) is that it is not the aggression that he likes. It’s the confidence and the power that they have. Pichest talks a lot about power. He appreciates strong bodies and makes note of it regularly. He appreciates people who are emotionally strong (do not read this as repressed). He talks about how, again, always having the sense doors open causes weakness. And how we keep running our personal history through our mind so much making us unable to forgive and let go, again, making us weak. And that when you can close the sense doors and not be so distracted with your attention turned inward, then you cannot be so swayed by your emotions (they lessen and have less and less power over you), and as your emotions become less overwhelming, your heart has the space to grow stronger. When the heart grows stronger, then you can give and share and DO and it is all coming from the right place; a place of power, surety and clarity. (For those who know him, imagine Pichest taking his left fist, smacking his chest over his heart, and then his fist punching the air and saying, “GO!!!” When there is no doubt, no hesitation in the mind then the heart can be strong and do what it is meant to do – “do good”.   That is what he is seeing when he sees aggressive people give treatments. He sees people who have lost the fear, lost the doubt, lost the hesitation, and therefore, have the potential for helping someone. Now, in a number of asides to me in the last few weeks, he noted that these same people were tense in their bodies and working too hard.   He recognizes that. But he clearly sees this place that these practitioners have gotten to as being a step up, an evolution, from the uncertainty that most people are dealing with.

How does this practically show itself in the practice? If you find yourself testing and checking and pushing a little and then trying something else etc, before you finally engage, that is what he has the biggest problem with. After you have been practicing for a number of years, in Pichest’s view, you should know that already. You see it, you feel it, you lock in and you go. It’s almost immediate. Your hands should just know where to go as soon as you engage.   Of the five hindrances, they say that doubt is the most difficult to let go. Perhaps because it is the most difficult to perceive in our mind. It is easily hidden and often disguised. Let it be said though that many people who are overly “sure” of themselves and their worldview and their confidence that they know best about someone’s healing comes from a tension and tightness that is all about doubt as well. Like I said, doubt is a tricky one with many disguises. And it is quite true that I have been stymied by its presence in my mind in many places in my life – not just my bodywork practice.

The western skeptical mind is anathema to Pichest and to the potential for healing. He’ll often talk about the importance of belief and the problems that come when one doesn’t believe. Again, this is all part of the same line of thinking that I have been laying out in this article. I see it much more clearly now. I have had a real breakthrough in understanding this trip. My practice is new again. Thank you Anne for helping me to see that. And thank you Pichest for doing what you do and allowing me (and so many others) to enter your world for a long enough time to try to make sense of it. The longer I am in that world (it’s been 17 years now that I’ve known this man), the more light comes into mine. I am grateful beyond words. That being said, no more words!

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