As more technology and advanced innovations are developed to save people more time and convenience, why it is that people still choose to end their life short? Has it become overwhelmingly stressful to carry on living? In 2013, more than 41,000 people died from suicide in the U.S. (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 2015). In other words, at the end of a one-hour meeting, we could come back to find five of our loved ones committed suicide (AFSP, 2015). Furthermore, with over 30 U.S. states passing voting restriction bills as of May 2015, many African Americans are still trapped with the same problem of inequality they faced 50 years ago on Bloody Sunday (http://billmoyers.com/2015/03/06/50-years-bloody-sunday-voting-rights-attack/). Whether it is the Ebola outbreak in 2014 or the MERS epidemic in 2015, it seems that living is becoming more difficult. For all the money we struggle to earn, our freedom and happiness are not secured. If life is so complicated, what did we work hard for?
In the face of that dilemma, a man in Thailand stood up and said that life is easy. With no college degree or salary, this man was able to own a house, feed himself and a community of 100 people and stay debt-free. Not to mention, many individuals and NGOs from all over the world would fly to Thailand to see him every month. Who is this man? How can he smiling with so much happiness? What is his secret to life? Not wanting to let the summer opportunity pass by, I decided to fly to Northern Thailand for my internship to study from him how life can be easy. After two weeks there, I finally discovered the secret of life from the man named Jon Jandai.
To most people who first see Jon, he appears to be a quiet man with tattered clothing. Some even went as far as to label him a ‘lazy man’ because of his unconventional ways of doing things and living life. However, once I began my internship, I could see that he is a wise man and is never afraid to experiment with his life. Furthermore, he is the one of the most hardworking and determined person I have met. To endlessly work on turning a barren land into a fertile center filled with abundance of fruit and vegetables for more than 12 years, I could not help but be inspired by his ardent perseverance.
The three following points are the most valuable life advice I gained from Jon and how they have changed my life around. The first lesson is that life is indeed easy. The wisdom of nature already has all of what we need. Instead of being a consumer of marketed food products, Jon decided to go back to being a producer. Jon believe that the heart of human survival lie in the seeds. As GMO seeds are modified to prevent propagation, he established his own organic farm, Pun Pun, to save the traditional, local seeds and share them with the community. As he grows his own food, he finally have food not only for himself but enough to feed the whole village. In addition, he built himself a house within 3 months, from just only working for 2 hours a day. His materials only consist of adobe around his farm and simple wooden tools he made. As opposed to Jon, a typical person in Thailand either get into debt or need at least 30 years to save up enough money to build a house. Jon also utilizes natural remedies and benefits of water, mud, natural antioxidants to treat himself and his family in time of sickness. With many people coming to see him monthly, he would get new clothes as people left them behind. With few hours spent working each day, Jon has acquired all four basic necessities of food, shelter, medicines and clothes. With the rest of the 20-hour left, he spend it with his family, enjoying his leisure activities and helping his community. When even Monday seems like a holiday, life is truly easy.
The second lesson Jon emphasized is that money can never bring us true freedom. As he once have taken up money as his life purpose, he knew it is money that made his life so complicated. In 1997, Thailand suffered its worst economic recession due to the mismanagement of the Thai government (yale). Within a year, more than 60% of financial companies were closed down infinitely and the country undergone massive layoffs in various major industries (yale and Kennard & Hanne, (2015). Overnight, people lost their livelihood and money almost become worthless. The time they lost toiling away at their work also became meaningless. Thus, when we made money our life goal, we will always be dancing to the whims of it. Life then will never be easy. Likewise for fashion or lifestyle trends, as long as we choose to dedicate our lives to them, our lives will always be dictated by someone else.
The third lesson is to challenge ourselves to do something against our emotions. As opposed to acting on our emotions, pause to take a look at the feeling that arises. Challenge ourselves to act in the opposite direction of it. Jon illustrated how he challenged his fear of ghosts by venturing deep into the forest and stay there alone at night. What he saw was that as the days passed by, the fear lost control of him and he was freed by the shackles of his emotion. As for my personal challenge, it was my fear of darkness. Unless there is someone with me, I would leave the lights on all night. That habit follows me everywhere like a harrowing shadow for over 10 years. As my mental health deteriorate night by night and my electric bill skyrocket, I made myself a commitment to sleep without any light during my time at Pun Pun. For the first few nights, I could not get any sleep. Fear shrouded me like a never-ending nightmare. What if something creep out of that corner? I was alone, enveloped in complete darkness. However, as it became apparent to me that everything remains what it is both in daylight and nighttime, I realized that darkness is not fearful. It’s the fear itself that breeds more fears. Thus, now that I am no longer weighed down by the fear, I am freed to have the control and happiness back to my life.
In a nutshell, life is easy if we believe and make it easy. Jon demonstrated to the world that we do not need money to survive as much as we think we do. Money is a tool but not a goal. In addition, people have made countless poor choices in the moment of anger, fear, confusion and etc. For in that split second, we could have hug someone instead of hitting them. Therefore, when we change from within, we will have the freedom and happiness inside of us even when the world around us is void and empty.
The 2-week internship is held on Pun Pun Center, which is an 8-acre organic farm, seed center, and sustainable living learning center. The teaching team consists of various community members from the Center, led by Jon Jandai (Pun Pun, 2009). Jon, who is a farmer from northeastern Thailand, founded the Pun Pun Center for Self-reliance, an organic farm outside Chiang Mai, with his wife Peggy Reents in 2003. Pun Pun doubles as a center for sustainable living and seed production, aiming to bring indigenous and rare seeds back into use. It regularly hosts training on simple techniques to live more sustainably. Outside of Pun Pun, Jon is a leader in bringing the natural building movement to Thailand, appearing as a spokesperson on dozens of publications and TV programs for the past 10 years. He continually strives to find easier ways for people to fulfill their basic needs (TedxTalks, 2011).
The internship is separated out to cover gardening, natural health, earthen building, and homemade products. These include:
- Basics of organic gardening: making garden beds, making organic compost, cultivating IMOs (indigenous micro-organisms for liquid fertilizers), and seed saving
- Simple natural healing techniques: Using clay, water, and certain plants for healing, ways to incorporate these into your everyday life for simple cures
- Introduction to earthen building: The teaching team demonstrate the steps involved in building own earthen home with adobe. Interns make adobe bricks and build together a mini-structure displaying how to lay adobe bricks and make earthen plasters and paints
- Creating homemade products such as Thai snacks, soap, and fermented foods (Pun Pun, 2009)
- CDC. Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html.
- Kennard & Hanne, http://www.amazon.com/Boom-amp-Bust-Economic-Bubbles/dp/1329231686
- Yale http://www.yale.edu/iforum/Fall1997/Thailand.html