If I told you I was going to start a training center related to peacebuilding and conflict resolution and asked you where I should locate it, Bangkok might come up at some point in the conversation. After all, Bangkok is in many ways a regional hub and hosts regional offices for many international nongovernmental, governmental, and other organizations. Besides, if we were having that conversation you would probably already know that I live in Bangkok and, anyway, who doesn’t want to come to Thailand for training? What locations would you suggest if I told you I was going to start a center to explore and encourage reflective practice? Where did your mind just go? Did you have flashes of pristine beaches, lush mountains, running rivers, or dramatic cliffs? If you did, I get you. When we talk about reflective practice, many of us automatically think of extended free time in the beauty of nature or meditation or yoga retreats in similar locations. Yet for most of us, that’s not where we live. And for many of us, the notion that the only way we can meet our reflective needs is on serene natural vacations or through a week of silent meditation isn’t very reassuring. For some, it can even be discomforting and we can recoil from the very idea. Why is that? Many of us have been well enculturated into a system whereby we run through hyper-busy lives whilst dreaming of what is billed as a rejuvenating vacation to some exciting destination - white sand, crystal waters, trekking to hidden jungle waterfalls, the excitement of a foreign city or countryside, historical landmarks, or just somewhere to get away from it all. Pick your poison. We understand that not everyone enjoys the same travel destinations. After much planning and preparing and ensuring our work will be covered while we’re away, we finally set off on our journey to vacation. To renewal. Or so we think. After the extra busy ramp up in our work lives followed by concerns of packing and travel and finding where we’re going and unpacking, are we really ready to unwind? When we return home and friends and colleagues ask about our trip, we dutifully report how fabulous it was and what a wonderful time we had, flipping through pictures on our smart phones to prove it. And all the while we subvert certain memories and realities. We’d rather not recall the stressful moments. Or when we argued with our travel companions. Or how the beauty and wonder of it all was sometimes lost on us. Or how we found it difficult to be present. And we certainly would rather not report that instead of feeling rested and refreshed and ready to start running again, we are actually still quite tired. In fact, the vacation has done very little to ease the exhaustion we started with. What is going on here? It turns out that we can’t simply summon reflection and rest. There is no magic lamp we can rub or genie who can grant us instant recharge. Like many things, reflection, rest, and recharge are all processes. And it seems that if we are not at least paying them some nominal attention, we can’t expect to conjure them out of thin air the moment we have installed ourselves in a lounge chair on the beach.
Which brings us back to answering the question of why Bangkok. If we are to practice reflection and rejuvenation as a regular part of our lives, we must find ways to make that practice practical. Many of us live in the midst of the proverbial rat race. We commute, relate quite closely to the experience of sardines while riding public transportation, and balance our lives surrounded by the hustle and hum of the comings and goings of a few million others. If reflective practice is to be a real part of our lives, it must be possible in these settings. And it is. As for Bangkok, its an excellent place to explore the inner journey in the midst of outer chaos.