I should ask Ellen to tell me the story again, but it goes something like this: A man in her neighborhood, back near the Sutep Hills of Chiang Mai, needed to make merit. Making merit, tham boon, is a Thai Buddhist practice of making an offering, usually at a temple, but in other ways as well, of money or other desirable things, as a kind of atonement. Making merit is a way to restore something out of balance, and hence to burn away bad karma, and perhaps even a way to accumulate good karma, which then goes in the karma bank account, of sorts.

So, this man needed to make merit, and a lot of it.  From this strong need, it’s logical to assume that whatever he did was pretty bad, or at least, in his mind, it was pretty bad and demanded a lot of balance-restoring. It was bad enough, worth enough weight, that he purchased 10 white cows. These beautiful creatures, when you see them wandering through the neighborhood, make you think, if you know the story behind their presence, a plethora of dark thoughts: What could have happened? It must have been something terrible. Did someone die? Was it worse than that? The cows, as they wander, make you wonder.

Even in modern Chiang Mai, a cow is a costly and valuable item, and 10 of them, purchased as recompense to God, is impressive. In fact, Ellen said, people would probably like to kill those cows. They would like to eat those cows (even though it is a Buddhist country, but you would never know it from the amount of meat Thai people consume.) A cow still has a lot of meat on it, even in modern Chiang Mai. But no one would ever harm these animals. To kill a cow, especially a white cow, bought for the making of merit, would be a terrible deed – possibly worse than whatever made the man buy the cows in the first place.

So, now, the cows wander free. They wander in the neighborhood, and through wandering free, the process of nature and the passage of time, they have become a sizeable herd of cows numbering close to 30 strong, from what I can count. I can’t remember certain parts of the story. The man may have kept the cows somewhere for a while, on a piece of land that belonged to him, and then died and now the cows wander around in this humorous and wonderful way, but I’m not sure, because when Ellen sees the cows, she often says “those are my neighbor’s cows,” not like someone talking about a dead neighbor.

In any case, the cows move around in the neighborhood, but prefer places with lots of sweet greens, like a defunct palm tree farm with big leafy plants that crunch with juice when bitten, which is where Ellen and her husband Joe live. In the mornings, when I sleep in their sala covered with a beautiful white mosquito net that creates a kind of Thai Bedouin tent lit by candles in the evening, I sometimes open my eyes to them just beyond me, taking large and noisy bites out of anything green. They have soft eyes, and the young ones have spindly legs. As soon as they see me, a kind of alarm goes through the herd. I can feel it being passed through glances and the change in the rigidity of ears and skin. If I move anything more than my eyes, they back away. If I move a hand, they start to run, stirring the still morning air with animal movement, hurried, frightened, moving themselves to a place they consider to be just out of human reach.


Aside from Pichest, Mary and I did some studying with a couple of other teachers in Chiang Mai. In fact, Mary has been doing a lot of studying with Mo Noi, living with her on her piece of land and assisting in her clinic there, and I hope she will write a blog post about her experiences, if she’s still writing on the blog. I’ve met Mo Noi a handful of times. She’s an amazing woman – a traditional Thai doctor who in the past years has begun working almost entirely energetically with her patients. She does very little manipulation of the physical body, and instead works on the deeper layers of energy. She talks a lot about feeling places of heat in the body, and about the imbalances “floating” up to the surface. She has a wonderful piece of land which is her and her husband’s home as well as a restful therapy center for her patients. She’s also an herbalist and amazing cook, preparing therapeutic meals with plants from her own land. Mary, please write more!

Back in November, Mary and I both studied with Jack Chaiya for a 3-day Advanced Nerve Touch Course. We were very excited to meet him, and also hopefully to meet his mother, Lek Chaiya, who is now nearly 80 and doesn’t teach much anymore. She does still teach a 4 day course on Thai Massage and Pregnancy, and I hope to take that at some point in the near future, when I return to Chiang Mai. During the 3 days we were there, we only saw her briefly.  Here she is preparing the herbs for some herbal compresses:

Walking into the Chaiya’s studio is a respite from the busy street outside. They are just around the corner from Tha Pae Gate, one of the most active and most touristed areas of the old city in Chiang Mai. On this corner, you can buy coffee drinks with whipped cream, pizza, tickets to a Thai boxing show, rent motorbikes for the day, anything.  Just inside the door of the Chaiya’s studio is a wall of the many kinds of herbal teas they package and sell, and sometimes give to you when you’re sick during class. You can also buy various balms and herbs for Thai herbal compress.

Jack told us this tea has deer urine in it….a special potent addition his mother likes to add, obtained from a Chinese shop near Wararot Market…but how they obtained it from the deer he doesn’t know. And whether he’s serious or not, we don’t know. The tea is strong and sort of minty and also rather musky…or is that just our imagination?

Downstairs, in addition to the desk where you can sign up for classes and the teas, there is a small cloth shop and a fashion studio. Lek Chaiya’s other son is a fashion designer, and clients are often coming in for consultations.  Like many places in Thailand, these multiple activities going on at the same time give a feeling of the integration that is the structure of society here. The family business is one whole, with many aspects, none of them perceived to be in any conflict with one another.

Upstairs there is a small room where class is held. While we are studying – it’s just the two of us; private study with Jack can be only one or two people at a time – there is an introductory course going on simultaneously. Since I had already been in Thailand for a month and a half at that point, I was quite used to this Thai style of putting everything together, not separating, not creating distinct and removed private spaces. So there was no problem, we were studying one thing, and two feet away, a small group of students were studying a different thing.

I enjoy the natural interplay that happens when spaces are not clearly divided. You could interpret the situation as being one that creates confusion, or you could see the same phenomena of multiple voices, multiple levels, tasks, events, as being in conversation with one another. I like this second interpretation very much, and try to follow it, especially when I do feel a sense of distraction creeping in.

Jack is a gregarious and kind man with a lot of energy, with a feeling of constantly arranging things and putting them in order. He never seems to come to any sort of rest, even when he’s resting.  On the third day, because of this, Mary decided that he needed some work himself.

And a day before, his ankle hurt all of a sudden, right in the middle of the kitchen, and Mary fixed it.

Study with Jack was wildly different from study with              Pichest. First of all, there was a book. (Yes, it was hard for us to believe as well.) Second of all, there was a lot of technique, and the technique was rather difficult for us. And thirdly, we actually had to do the sequence in the book, step by step.

Mary and I both found it a bit of a shock to be back in the world of finding exact lines and following them precisely, counting the number of points and repetitions, having to keep “this move comes after that move” kind of order in our heads. It made us realize how different things had been at Pichest’s. We were certainly a bit out of practice with this kind of approach, and sometimes we would both think “really, this is just an awful lot of work.’ But it was interesting work, nonetheless, and certainly valuable to have a strong counterpoint of style and technique to put Pichest’s technique (the techniqueless technique) in perspective.

Nerve Touch involves a lot of pressure given with the hands and fingers, and so requires a lot of strength in these parts as well as in the upper body.

Here, these two moves. both of which I have learned to do with my foot, are being done with the hand.  Jack has very powerful hands, and does a lot of work with his fingers, seemingly without injury to them. The emphasis on lines and points is very strong in this work as well, and we are often following and flipping the entire length of a tendon. In that sense, these 3 days were a good review, to some extent, of both the physical and sen/energetic anatomy of the arms and legs. Following the line of a tendon is often done with the hands, which are of course very precise, but can surely also be done when working with the knees, elbows, feet, etc., though this requires great sensitivity in those less familiar parts of the body.

On the 3rd day, Mary and I both had our own ody problems – my right shoulder, a long-standing injury, was aching, and Mary’s digestion was troubling her.  These things, combined with our residual Pichest energy of just exploring and feeling, were enough to shift the intense focus on the lessons from the book and following the sequence to something more open and spontaneous, and we all just worked on one another’s various ailments instead.

Jack did some very nice work on my shoulder. I particularly enjoyed these two simple supported positions that allowed him to go very deep into the shoulder joint from practically any angle. (But you can still see clearly in both pictures how focused this work is on the therapist using his hands and fingers, often without the weight and leverage of the body behind them. Of course, Jack also uses his elbows, feet and knees, but the focus is definitely on work originating with the arms, at least in our lessons this was true.)

Later in the day, Jack did some work on Mary’s abdomen with the lovely Thai herbal compresses his mother was making. The herbs smelled amazing, and the simple cloths the compresses were wrapped in gave a delightful feeling of the simple traditions that Thai medicine is based in. I sat there opening them in my lap and examining them, enjoying touching the moist and pungent plant matter inside. We had already learned some abdominal work in the 3 day course, and this was a nice way to review both those positions of the hands and the use of the herbal compress. And it was wonderful and warming for Mary.

We didn’t have time during the 3 days to learn to make the compresses ourselves, so a few weeks later, after I took a trip through northern Thailand with my good friend Sarah Nelson, and Mary and I went to Laos for a week to renew our visas, I met Jack one morning at 6 am in Chiang Mai market and he walked around with me showing me all the herbs he buys for the compresses. Some of them, like the yellow ginger, can’t be bought at the market most of the time and have to be ordered from farmers who bring it in large quantities for the Chaiyas from the hills. The herb market is quite small, a few stalls that seem to be a part of the larger vegetable market, and a few women with blankets in the very back of the market. Jack also bought me some delicious sticky rice mixed with black sesame, a Thailand treat I hadn’t yet tried. Later, after the day at Pichest’s, I rode my scooter back to the Chaiya’s and Jack and I mashed, cut, squashed and ripped limes, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, jasmine and other herbs and grasses in a big bowl and then tied them in simple brown cloth. I went home with 4 herbal compresses, still moist and alive inside.

When the rice fields outside of Pichest’s were cut for the harvest, I realized it had been a (long long) while since the last blog post, and thought this transition of seasons marked a good place and time to write some more about our experiences in Thailand. That was around mid-December. Now, I’m sure the rice is nearly fully grown again. When I left Thailand for India a little over two weeks ago, the roosters and chickens were cooing in the long stubble in the very hot afternoons. At times, a few cows came out to graze. Now, I look out over a similarly dry landscape, toward the town of Trimbak, in Maharashtra, India, where I am studying for a month at an ashram. But more on that later.

A new year, the Year of the Tiger, in which we should seize the things in front of us with no hesitation, has begun and there are many things to write about.  It’s a bit disorienting to write about Thailand from here, where the sense of the world is entirely different, in ways I have no words for yet.

I’ve decided to keep some parts of this first post, more or less composed from my sweet little bungalow in Chiang Mai, in the present tense. The other posts will obey the basic rules of time and space as they’ve been taught to me, since some over the things I would like to write about are “over,” whatever that means.


The winter seems close to over here.  The heat is coming back, filling up the afternoons. Now, when we break for lunch, Pichest says “hot hot,” which is actually the first thing I heard him say on the day we first came to class in October, when he was standing in the road outside his house. We were excited and disoriented and didn’t know for sure if it was Pichest or not. He turned to us with a big smile and said, “hot hot.” It is hot hot now, and this is not even hot. The heat is coming. And then, we hear, when the heat is at its worst, they will start burning the hillsides around Chiang Mai.  Heat plus smoke equals, we hear, hell. We also hear that they didn’t used to do this. My friend Som says one night when we’re sitting at the restaurant at the top of a large hotel, eating really gross French fries, looking out over the Ping River, that it’s only been a few years that they’ve been burning so much. It didn’t used to be something that covered the city with unbreathable air.  A few days ago, Pichest said that Chiang Mai is very unhappy because they have a problem with their garbage.

Now for the orders of business; that is, the posts that are to come, either in one big swoop, depending on how the next few days ago, or in a trickle. This list should create nothing less than great suspense and anticipation, like a serial novel published in the weekly newspaper:

Pichest and the Central Axis

Jack Chaiya and his mother/Lek Chaiya and her son

Sinchai: The blind man near the north gate

Horizontal Movement 1: 10 White Cows

A Tour of the Region: Meet the Healers

A Tour of the Region:  Close to China, on the Edge of Burma

Side of the Road Projects: Just One More Foot

Chiang Mai Dusk Walk: Humanscape to Naturescape

Putting Your Hand Under Pichest’s Foot: Teaching By Touching (Refusing Concept)

1 Month in 3 Indias

Wow! Better get started. The first one might be the hardest, actually

Pichest and the Central Axis

I take notes in Pichest’s class. Sometimes, I do this furtively, writing little snippets when I think he’s not paying attention. Sometimes, I sit there with my notebook open like I’m in a lecture hall. Either way, he relentlessly makes fun of me for doing this.  Of course, he’s right. I’m keeping things in my head, conceptualizing them. When he points at me and laughs, I put the book away, usually for the rest of the day.  Perhaps, however, there might be some value, at least for me, and maybe for you, since you’re reading this, to these notes. One can look over them and see some of the patterns of his talks, which are essentially dharma talks. He takes up certain themes certain weeks, though all of the elements he talks about tend to circulate and recur day to day. Sometimes, he’ll become focused for a number of days on death and how we are going to all end up in a box; sometimes, he’ll talk about karma, our mother and fathers, the way they took care of us as babies, the six directions, the precepts. Sometimes, he talks more about the body itself, how we can take it apart, lay all of its elements in front of us…skin, tendons, organs, hair, bones…and then, where is the body? Where is the ego? Where is the unity we try to believe in?  Oftentimes, he’ll talk about the external form of the body and our attachment to it as “body show,” something already dead, just a skeleton inside. Usually, in this particular talk, Miss Universe makes an appearance.

Looking back over several months of notes, I realized that Pichest, in many of his talks, refers back time and again to finding and keeping concentration in the central line of the body. “Keep here,” he says, “concentrate here,” and points up and down his torso, from navel to throat. “Keep here.”

He often says to find, and keep this place of stability by taking a sip of water. “Listening water,” he sometimes says. Take a sip of water and follow it down down down. “Where does it go?” From the mouth to just above the navel (there are slightly different assignations of this point in different Buddhist and Hindu traditions – it’s often said to be four fingerwidths below the navel…) When you forget the sensation of that place, where the water ends, take another sip of water. Forget, sip. Forget sip.

He also goes through periods where he talks about the stone and the waves. The waves are on the surface. They are the emotions, the fluctuations of the mind, desires, aversions, “I want, I don’t want.” These waves can be large or small, turbulent or calming, even lulling. But no matter. What we should follow is the stone. Like when you drop a stone into the river. “Follow the stone,” he says, pointing down the center line of his body, to the place where the water stops, where the stone rests. He looks up, with a very big smile. “Keep here.”

Here, the center line, from tongue to just above the navel, this is the first sen line, Sen Sumana. It’s the biggest, the main channel. In Indian practice, it’s called the Shusumna. In Tibetan practice it’s also used, though I don’t know the name for it. It’s the energetic spine inside the physical spine and itself has several inner layers, nestled one in the other. This is the place where the deepest movements of the human energy body take place; the space where the deepest illnesses live; the life cord, in many senses, of the rest of the body as well ass its fundamental organizing principle, energetically and musclo-skeletally. It’s the part we that stands us upright, and the part that can remain upright in meditation; the stem of the lotus, where the blossom will come.

So Pichest is offering a strong Sen Sumana meditation.  Feel the sensation of water in the mouth, on the tongue, a strong sensing organ. Feel the energy of the water travel down the space of the channel. Where the energy comes to rest, there rest your mind. Rest your mind there with the weight of a stone, unmoving, resting, there, on the soft bottom of the river. The breath, if you follow it from nose to diaphragm, to the lower belly, follows the same line. When you forget, drink more water. This meditation can be done anywhere, not just sitting on a cushion.   Every time you drink water, you can practice this. Like a good Tantric practice, another wonderful thing about this simple meditation is the way it asks you to bring energy to a simple, daily activity. The Tantra says: whatever you do, do it fully; whatever you do, enjoy it..

On a side note, Pichest just yesterday offered another water-related practice. It’s something like this (and I’ll try to capture more or less in Pichest-speak, which is a delight all its own): “Talking with boyfriend, talking with girlfriend, do like this. When girlfriend talking, boyfriend drinking the water.  Keep in the mouth, don’t swallow. (puffs out his cheeks, to show that the water stays there, filling the mouth.) Girlfriend talking. Keep here, keep in mouth. Then, she finished, and boyfriend swallow. And follow here (points to the center line and the navel). Then, boyfriend answer. Girlfriend drinking water, but keep here (in the mouth.) Don’t swallow. Ah, like that. Then…no problem. Then, honey sweet.”

Like meditating together.

I made this extremely technical diagram to explain it all:

But the central axis is not only a deep space of meditation; it’s also the place from which much, if not all, of the physical work of Thai massage comes, especially as Pichest teaches it. As the body learns to truly relax, to lean and not push, to use angles of leverage between giver and receiver to find the best place to work, the central axis is where everything comes from. The arms, the legs, the feet, the hands…nothing acts independently. A hand never pushes from the palm, or even the shoulder. All the pressure comes from the relation between hand and center line. The breath comes from the side of the ribcage, and goes into the hand, and the hand goes into the body of the receiver.

The receiver’s central line and Pichest’s central line seem to do a kind of a dance together. Many people say that when Pichest works on them, they feel that his body becomes completely one with their body, on all levels.

When I watch Pichest work, one thing that strikes me is the lack of contortion of his body. He never seems in a position that doesn’t make sense, or that confuses the logic of  his body. He is like a pure central axis, leaning, bending, relaxing, straightening…moving with that central intelligence guiding. Even when the position seems outwardly complicated (inspiring a lot of photographs to be taken)

When you look closely at what’s actually happening, how the two bodies are working together, it’s remarkably simple. It’s those moves that provoke the biggest grins from Pichest himself, since, of course, he feels the simplicity of it all as well…more than any of us.  “Good simple,” he often says, and wouldn’t need my complicated notes to understand these exact things.

Since another aspect of my life is the practice of Buto dance, in the writing of this post, I have found myself thinking quite a bit about how that practice as well focuses on the central line of the body. To some extent, all forms of movement and body work must take this orientation and structural support of the body into deep consideration, but in some practices it is focused on more than in others, and in Buto the stability, support and collapse of the central axis, and, in particular, the movement between these states, is the place from which much of the dance, and its philosophy, is drawn.

The practice of Buto tries to bring the practitioner back to a basic understanding of the reality of humanness. The cycle of living and dying, and all the experiences the being in this cycle goes through in a lifetime, all of them manifest in the body as various states of stable behavior or the collapse, or gradual collapse, of this stability.  In collapse is vulnerability, and oftentimes, in this vulnerability is contained great truth, free from the illusions we create around ourselves in daily life.

In Buto the central axis is a filament held taut between heaven and earth…taut but with play in the line. While it is taut, there are certain ways one can work with it. You can turn on it. You can walk with it as taut, elastin support. You can rise and fall on it.

But cut it, and new forms of work emerge. Buto explores the fall and the process of falling as a space of work. The collapse is a space of work and engagement. Slowing down the collapse to feel its every pull and shift is a practice the dancer does again and again, until there is an intimate knowledge of how to cut the cord that keeps the body upright, a good citizen, a good friend and lover. How to cut the cord that will ultimately be cut with some other scissors, tomorrow or in 80 years.  How can the body collapse comfortably? How does it feel when it collapses uncomfortably? From collapse, how can movement be initiated again? How can collapse be elaborated on through movement? How can collapse be slowly recuperated; the body reintegrated?

All movement forms, being generated by humans, animals, plants, the movements of the winds, and so on, bear relation to one another. Perhaps this last question, how to move the body from collapse to reintegration, has some particular resonance with Thai massage, and other forms of working toward the deeper health of the human. How are the practices we are doing with our ”patients,” who are also our friends, our colleagues, our fellow dancers moving between these two axes, of stability and collapse? And furthermore, how can we allow our own bodies, while working on others, to completely collapse in the way Pichest’s does, with the central line so supple and relaxed and yet so functionally integrated into every movement we do?


Where Pichest lives, and how

November 10, 2009


As the days go on, my impressions of our studies with Pichest become less linear or focused on particular days, and are more concentrated on Pichest’s various aspects, different ways he has of teaching, different moods, and the shifting energy with which he works. Mary and I have been talking a lot about all of the other work Pichest is doing, besides teaching us thai massage. As we spend more time in his space and witness and receive more interactions, we see that much more is happening energetically at Pichest’s than appears on the surface (in fact, this “other” work is often happening precisely at those times when one might have the impression that absolutely “nothing” is happening.)

Recently, in the evenings, I have been reading The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, which is a philosophical record of a year he spent in Bali and Nepal investigating the practices of shamans and other local healers. At the beginning of the book, he talks about how the shaman does not, and in fact cannot, live at the center of the village she or he serves, but must live on the edge, on the outskirts. It is from the border zone that the shaman draws her power.

“I discovered that very few of the medicine people that I met considered their work as healers to be their primary role or function for their communities. So even though they were the healers, or the medicine people, for their villages, they saw their ability to heal as a by-product of their more primary work. This more primary work had to do with the fact that these magicians rarely live at the middle of their communities or in the heart of the village. They always live out at the edge or just outside of the village — out among the rice paddies or in a cluster of wild boulders — because their skills are not encompassed within the human modality. They are, as it were, the intermediaries between the human community and the more-than-human community — the animals, the plants, the trees, even whole forests are considered to be living, intelligent forces. Even the winds and the weather patterns are seen as living beings. Everything is animate. Everything moves. It’s just that some things move slower than other things, like the mountains or the ground itself. But everything has its movement, has its life. And the magicians were precisely those individuals who were most susceptible to the solicitations of these other-than-human shapes. It was the magicians who could most easily enter into some kind of rapport with another being, like an oak tree, or with a frog.”

This is the rice field right across from Pichest’s house. It’s just off the main road, but the main road probably hasn’t been there all that long, and certainly was once not so large as it is now.


Two things about where Pichest lives struck me all of a sudden.  First of all, he lives just off the same road the Old Medicine Hospital is on, though he lives much further out of Chiang Mai proper – the Old Medicine Hospital is just on the edge of the old city.  Pichest was a therapist there for many years, and so he still lives on the line of that road, on that sen, as Mary would say.  Secondly, though Pichest may be maintaining certain energetic connections with Chiang Mai, he does indeed live on the outskirts, and I have the impression that he does not go into Chiang Mai very often. He is cultivating his knowledge in a significantly different environment than the crowded streets of the main city.

He is constantly talking about 7-11. 7-11 is everything that the natural world is not. 7-11 is, for Pichest, a total loss of knowledge, and what’s worse, 7-11 is everywhere, even in the place that used to be the “outskirts.”  Pichest is more than right…in this rapidly expanding world, the distinction between center and periphery is becoming very blurry, and the natural world and all of its inherent knowledge, is being paved over.

A few days ago, Pichest started talking to me about the eclipse.  I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. He mentioned it a number of times. He said bad things could happen. He made a motion like slicing his throat, which I think was my throat. He mentioned the eclipse again.  I tried to wait patiently and not worry about losing my head, literally. This went on for a day or two.  Then, one day, Pichest took a long nap.


He often does this. When he woke up, he started shuffling around the weird piles of things, papers, dusty bottles of oil, matches and other weirder things that lie in most corners and on most surfaces of the room, especially around the altar. He was in a half-sleep, cultivating a kind of energy I’ve seen him sometimes use, which is an energy meaning that he is doing something very internal, and doesn’t want to be interrupted. Mary and I were practicing on one another, and he came over to me with the piece of paper with a lot of squares on it, and some other symbols. “Name?”  he said in a low voice. “Michelle.” He wrote my name slowly in a tiny square, fitting it all in.  “Surname.”  “Tupko.”  The tiny square below was filled in with these letters, which I spelled out.  He also did an elaborate and ancient form of counting on his fingers, using the digits of each hand to mark ones and tens. He did this a number of times, checking and double checking.  I told Mary  I think I once read something about how the Egyptians counted like that. Then he went away.
After some time, he called me over.  He gave me these things:


which are, a silver (aluminum?) bowl, a candle holder, and a candle he made from a circle of yellow wax that he rolled and rolled into a candle shape, wrapped in paper.  Mary thinks the piece of paper with my name on it was inside the candle. He gave me a set of instructions about what to do that night, and said it would clear the dark energy in me. It would remove the eclipse?

Many of the shamanistic things Pichest is doing happen within the larger context of Buddhism, but it seems to me, and I’ve been asking around a bit about this as well, that here in Thailand, and particularly in the North, or the Lanna region, Buddhism and the older, animistic and extremely varied practices of the people here coexist quite peacefully with one another, and there are few conflicts set up by practitioners of these arts between this and that, between Buddhist practices and other rituals,between shamans and monks. (To illustrate this point, I’ll mention that a friend who is organizing a tour of a wide survey of local healers in the Chiang Mai outskirts, recently told me that she met a  monk who is the head of a  wat and some years ago received a vision about how to run energy through pyramids. At this wat, you can lay down beneath little pyramids with special holes cut in them in specific patterns, and water runs through them. You absorb the energy. Speaking of the Egyptians…)

Pichest has performed other simple rituals as well, like keeping the buddhas and Jivaka statues of these American students on the altar for one week, and then giving them back.  When he performs ceremonies, he often sits in this chair, which is like the place a monk would sit in a wat to give a blessing:


These rituals are externally simple, but, like shaman, I can tell that Pichest is doing an inner work in his own space to facilitate a deeper exchange of energy.

I also believe that Pichest performs many rituals of various sorts for the village and community around him. The spirit house/temple (he calls it both) that he is having built is not just for us, if it’s for us at all. I have not seen any of these rituals, and would like to ask Pichest about what role he is playing outside of the work we see him do, but it hasn’t been the right time for that conversation yet.

And now I’m starting to see how he works with that endless exchange of energy between one place and another, one person and another, when he is working on people.  Look at the different energies he’s using as he’s working.  Different moments bring different needs, and different moods and methods are elicited from him:



Ok, enough serious talk.  Now for some fun.


If I’m understanding correctly – this is the Buddha’s crystallized sweat.  That’s Pichest’s hand –I’m sure about that part, but do wonder about the nails on his thumb and pinky fingers.

Mary greeting a sudden visitor.


Where you ride on the song tao when it’s totally full in the afternoon, as it often is. (This is Hajime, a Japanese student who’s been with Pichest for 5 months and just left to return home yesterday.)


A better picture of the offerings:

(See, wasn’t that fun?)
And now some thai massage parts.

Nigel came again on Wednesday, and he received a rather different massage than last week.  Pichest had a student do side lying bloodstops and began immediately working on Nigel’s upper body, starting with the arm and shoulder, and doing a lot of work on the back lines. He finished with the legs and seated.


Often, Pichest will say “feel feel!” sudeenly, and then a lot of hands reach in to touch and sense.


Pretty much everyone is now practicing this simple and deep knee in the gluts move:


While fewer people are practicing this more difficult forearm in the neck move:


And, incidentally, it’s not true that he doesn’t do yoga.  He says, during this picture. “See, can do yoga easily. Do now.”

pichest-does-yoga  Really, Pichest seems to do everything easily.  Last week, he gave me a long lesson, which was “if not easy to do, do not do.  Do not do.  Do not do. Do not do.”  It took me quite a while to learn the lesson.

Actually, I have to keep learning and relearning it, by feeling, and a little bit of watching.  Look at how relaxed he is:


So, like this baby elephant resting, I’m practicing the practice of doing whatever I’m doing. “Do now. Easy to do.”


You mean like…DDT?

November 7, 2009


or, the importance of the Chiang Mai University Farmer’s Market

This is a post for my friend Sarah Nelson, who works for the Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market Association in San Francisco and took me to many wonderful Farmer’s Markets – and farms – when I visited her in early October, before I moved to Thailand.

These are some pictures from a Farmer’s Market that happens on the grounds of Chiang Mai University’s


where there also appears to be a working farm.

farmI would like to find out more about this farm, which I know nothing about. Our friend Nancy, who took us to the Farmer’s Market, where she buys her weekly produce as well as cooked food to eat during the week – a common practice in Thailand – told us that the vendor/farmers participating in the market and the produce they are selling is not from the University’s farm at all. The University just sponsors the Farmer’s Market.  I don’t know if that means the University’s farm is just for learning and research purposes, or if they sell their produce elsewhere.  Perhaps I will look into this.

The Farmer’s Market is pesticide-free and partly organic. We have heard that Thailand uses heavy-duty pesticides, some of which would be illegal in the United States or Europe.  I did a small bit of research while writing this blog about the pesticide issue. Here is a rather scary quote from a paper published at the site of a farm and sustainable research center just north of Chiang Mai (panyaproject.org):

“At latest count, out of the 58 pesticide products we’ve identified as commonly used in Thailand and in our region here in the north around Pun Pun Farm in particular…32 are moderately to highly acutely toxic to humans 14 are possible human carcinogens, and 9 are known human carcinogens 15 are cholinesterase inhibitors (indicating neurotoxicity) 19 are suspected endocrine disruptors 8 are reproductive or developmental toxins 30 are classified as “Bad Actors” by the Pesticide Action Network and 19 represent known or potential threats to groundwater contamination.”


The market is only partly organic, Nancy said. Organic seems to be a more difficult step that requires more education of and support for the farmers but awareness is slowly growing of the importance of organic food, and there are more markets available to farmers willing to put in the time and money to change their method of crop production.


Like many places in Thailand, the food and produce here look beautiful and sometimes the Thai do wonderful things like tie up a set of various herbs and veggies with a thick piece of banana trunk and staple it closed.


Or sell all kinds of fruit and vegetable juice, like passion fruit and gotukola (the green ones) in little plastic bags floating in a tub of water.


Or just have wonderful things, like what seem to be thousands of varieties of ginger and things like ginger, and the constant fresh coconut hacked at the top with a big machete as you watch and given to you to drink from.

ginger coconuts

I also quite liked the walk there, which involves crossing a mysterious vast expanse of concrete that could neither be said to be empty nor full.  These kinds of spaces are some of my favorite places to walk. They remind me of something.




Maybe we will go back next Saturday to get some more pictures, and more passion fruit juice, and to reduce our neurotoxicity.


Pichest is always smiling.  Except when he’s pretending he’s going to hit you on the head with his Buddhist      cane. “Pok Pok!”  Well, even then, he’s smiling.

Mary and I have been with Pichest for one week, and there’s so much to say it’s difficult to condense into one introductory post.  I’ll start with some basics.  Pichest lives in Hang Dong, which is not in Chiang Mai, so going to study with him every morning is an adventure of its own. The first day you go, you might be lucky enough, as we were, to have a piece of paper with some directions on it, that go something like this: “get in the yellow song tao (shared pickup truck taxi); look at your watch when you start the journey; 13 minutes later, when you pass the second of two pedestrian bridges, start looking for a big field; when you pass the building at the end of the big field, ring the buzzer and get out of the taxi, etc.  So the first morning is filled with the great excitement of buying offerings (lotus blossoms, fruit, incense and candles) for Pichest and his temple at the energetic and confusing Chiang Mai market, filled with sweets, curries, those flattened fish that scare me, people, motorbikes, other colorful things, and then finding a yellow pick up truck, and then staring eagerly and frantically out the window, discussing the “directions,” causing the good-humored Thai people in the taxi with you to smile at you a lot.

offerings-in-bags Offering-bowls

Pichest’s classroom is in the middle of a very normal neighborhood in Hang Dong. It’s right near a rice field.  It feels like the countryside compared to Chiang Mai. The room where we practice has a very large shrine area. I estimate that it takes up about one full third of the total area of the room. There are three parts of it – one part for teachers and family, one part for the Buddha and the Dharma, and one part, a free-standing white house in the corner, that I don’t understand at all. Near this house is a sculpture like a cardboard boat covered in gold that I understand even less. I don’t think it’s part of the shrine.

pichetshrinesmall          shrine-mysterious-part-of-i


Construction is going on right next to the classroom.  Pichest is building a new spirit house.  The men working there work incredibly fast – the first day we came, Monday, there was just the most basic frame.  This picture is from Wednesday.

Each day is structured in basically the same way, with some variations and improvisations – it’s like        jazz. We sit around either inside or outside of the classroom from about 9:00 to 9:30. Sometimes,            Pichest talks to people. He usually smokes a lot of cigarettes. Sometimes he talks in a more formal way to all those in the room, and sometimes just to one or two students or to an individual student. He has certain subjects he likes to talk about best…perhaps that will be its own post, the sayings of Pichest. I’m still collecting them.  In general, these talks center around keeping the 5 precepts of Buddhism, honoring one’s mother and father, not thinking too much, not thinking at all,  7-11 as a stand-in for all that’s gone wrong in our contemporary society, the illusion of the body, the certainty of death and other related subjects. Recently, he talked about how if trying to be a thai massage therapist makes you too worried, or makes you think too much, you should become someone who sells boxes, because that is a job without stress, and anyway, everyone always needs boxes, all kinds of boxes, including the one you find yourself in when “stop life.”      Classroom

Then we pray. We pray what I consider to be a rather formal Buddhist set of prayers, including a recitation of a vow to observe the 5 Precepts (as Pichest says “no killing, no lying, no sex, no stealing, no whiskey.”) We recite some of the prayers together, and Pichest says a fair amount of the prayers himself. We pray to all three areas of the shrine. We say the Om Namo to Jivaka somewhere in the middle.

After the prayers, Pichest often gives a kind of Dharma talk. He talks about the same subjects as mentioned above, with variations, and sometimes directs a fair amount of his speaking at a particular student.  When he does this, I think it’s an example of what would be called “transmission” in Buddhism…the teaching he’s giving is heard by all, but the inner energy of the teaching is for someone in particular. I think, in fact, that this direct transmission is a very important part of his bodywork, as well as a part of the way he works in the role of teacher.

Then, somehow arising from this talk, he chooses someone and starts talking about what’s going on in their body.  He will often go suddenly over to someone and say “see, block here,” and point to some part of them.  He’ll elaborate, and sometimes do some work on this part. Oftentimes, he’ll say to us, “Feel. Sense. Where is the block?”  And then he’ll sit in the corner for a while smoking a cigarette, and talk about the way their block is affecting their body from across the room. Then he’ll come over after a while and do some more stuff.  Sometimes, he’ll have another student work on the body that’s being observed and sensed. This all happens in a very organic and fluid way. Sometimes there are questions, sometimes if you ask a very “thinking” question, you get threatened with a hit on the head (in a playful way), sometimes you get a demonstration of something really interesting, sometimes you get no response at all. Pichest teaches entirely in the moment, and absolutely refuses to commit himself to any answer that would make the particular situation, the particular body in front of him into an example of things in general. He will work only with what is there to work with, and refuses almost all conceptualizing and abstraction.  This can be totally and utterly maddening, but it also forces us to look very closely at who is actually lying in front of us, and to give up the belief that we can work from our ideas about what someone needs.  This is very hard work, but, as Pichest always says, laughing “for you, hard; for me, easy.”


Then, lunch. Often, Pichest’s wife kindly cooks us some delicious vegetarian food. Othertimes, we go to the little food stand down the road, where they also kindly cook us some delicious vegetarian food. There, we drink cha nom – thai iced tea with sweet condensed milk – or cha manao – thai iced tea with lime. Sometimes, we need to go and get the cha nom even when we eat at Pichest’s.  The heat makes us crave it. And, besides, it comes, like almost any liquid in Thailand, in plastic bags, and that is just delightful. It’s also funny that when you need to put your cha nom in a plastic bag down, you can’t!  So you can hang it on a hook, as we once saw Pichest do.

After lunch, whenever you consider lunch to be over, you can come inside and work with someone. This, like the rest of the day, happens organically. No one decides when lunch is over, or who should work with whom, or in what way. Often, some people are working, some are watching, some are sleeping. Usually, by an hour or two after lunch, everyone is working with someone. At times, Pichest receives massage from one of the students, and then will often show them some new things and work on them for a while. Other times, we will go around and give some adjustments and advice. Other times, he sleeps. In Pichest’s class, one finds oneself looking to the other students as well as to Pichest for answers, ways to work and experience.


This is one of my favorite aspects of his way of teaching. The room is a mix of beginning, intermediate    and advanced students, and so a lot of knowledge is exchanged in a variety of directions.

Pichest’s son On also helps out some days, and gives a lot of wonderful adjustments to us. Both                Pichest and On give very hands-on adjustments. If you can’t understand something, like how to use        your knee pressure in the right way, they will take your hand and put it under their knee so that you         can feel how the pressure feels to the recipient. I like this feeling way of learning quite a lot – it’s very direct, and like so much that Pichest does, avoids over-conceptualizing.

At around 4, or a little bit later if Pichest was asleep, we pray again, this time just a short invocation to the Buddha and the Om Namo. Then we leave.  Sometimes, Pichest sits around outside and talks with us.

So, this is the way the days have been, with a few notable exceptions of Pichest seeing people from the outside and treating them in the context of the class.

A man named Nigel came on Wednesday to receive a massage from Pichest. I personally didn’t realize that Pichest still gave sessions, but now I believe that he gives them when they are really necessary.  My understanding is that he has been seeing Nigel for close to one year. Nigel is an American living in Chiang Mai, and suffers from Parkinson’s. Nigel was given his massage in the main room, with all the students gathered around watching, and shooting a lot of photos.  We shot 650!  Pichest had one of his students do some bloodstops – oops – I mean arterial compressions! — on Nigel when Pichest began working on him in side lying position, but other than that, he did all of the work himself. A student who has been studying with Pichest for many months told us that he does sometimes have the more advanced students begin Nigel’s massage and then takes over at some point. I was glad to have this chance to watch him work. He doesn’t talk or explain much while he’s working, but being able to follow the thread of his thought – I mean, his non-thinking! – is really amazing. Pichest is truly a master of finding the simplest, most direct and most effective way to work at any moment in any position, and he works with astounding fluidity.



Pichet-Nigel-Massage-2 Here are a few pictures from the 650 – one in  which I look confused, one which shows a  move  you should probably not do until you’re Pichest,  one in which he’s giving a good  Pichest smile,  and one in which he’s doing a totally awesome  move, which you probably  also shouldn’t do.  He  was smiling in that one too.

On Friday, a former student of Pichest, a Thai woman, came into the room the middle of  class unannounced, bringing with  her an older Indian-British man who had polio as a  child and 6 months ago, against the advice of his doctors, underwent a surgery to have  his Achilles tendon lengthened. His leg was still very stiff and swollen and causing him a  lot of pain. He had been receiving Thai massage as well as massage from the woman  with him. He was hoping Pichest could look at his situation. Pichest sat down and gave  him a diagnosis that the man said was exactly what his doctor had said. The most  surprising thing to me that Pichest said was that the man should definitely not receive  Thai massage, because the kind of pressure was too intense and only increased the block,  and would make it hard for the man to sleep. (I asked about it again later, and he did say  that bloodstops would be alright, but nothing else). Instead, he recommended oil  massage for the man. He went to the back of the room where there was a big tub of dark, pichet-polio-man-small herbed sesame oil. One of his students brought him various containers,  bowls and cups, to put the oil in, but none of them were the right one.  Pichest apparently wanted an earthenware container for the oil. Finally,  after 10 minutes of looking for the right container, he brought the oil over to  the man, and showed one of the students how to give a kind of slapping  massage to the man’s leg, meant to stimulate the blood flow in the leg.  He  also recommended to the man many, many times that he stops drinking  whiskey and ride a bicycle and get rid of his big belly. He usually smiled  when he said these things.

One week with Pichest is both a long and short time to be in his presence.  The main idea circulating in my thoughts after this first week is about the way that he teaches so directly from the bodies and the energies of the students in the room. The familiar superstructure of curriculum, plan, knowledge made concrete and authoritative that mark most classes of all subjects are totally absent from his way of teaching. He teaches from the situation as it is, and so one can have no doubt at all that one is indeed in that very situation. This, I am realizing more and more, is the essence of meditation itself. I complained to Pichest that he should teach meditation in his classroom if he’s going to talk about it so much, but I realize now that he already is.

Today, at the end of class, just before closing prayers, he suddenly stood up, went to the window and called for us to come and look at the light. When we crowded around, he opened his bottle of water and poured some into the cup made by the veins of a large leaf outside, then held the beautiful and simple water droplet up to the light. “Just like this,” he said. “Just like that.”

#9 Dream

October 31, 2009

marymichelleMary and Michelle have come to do what in Thailand?  Mary and Michelle are living where in Thailand?  Mary and Michelle are woken up by what every morning at 5? And 5:30…and 6:00 in Thailand?

This, in case you’re wondering, is proper Thai sentence structure.

Welcome to Mary and Michelle’s blog, where you will get the answers to the above questions.

massageofficeWe live in bungalow Number 9 in a bungalow complex north west of the old section of Chiang Mai, on Huay Kaew Road, which runs in a diagonal between Chiang Mai University and downtown.soho Our complex is just off this busy road, behind the car wash, behind the restaurant, behind Soho thrift store, behind the thai massage place/office of the bungalow complex, behind the place we thought was just a restaurant with sappy live music but are now realizing is a place where a lonely or bored middle-aged man might be able to find the dinner company of a young, scantily clad lady for a drink.  A prostitutebar3-minute walk from our bungalow, we went there just last night to check out the scene again, eating fried rice and drinking Chang (Elephant) Beer.

The bartender never lets the scantily clad ladies wait on us, and always pushes them aside.carwash

There are many characters around. Our friend Phim (pronounced Feem) works and lives in the car wash. The first day Mary met him he was wearing gold lame shorts and a matching button down shirt with bright blue plastic boots. She regrets not having her

phimcamera at the ready that day (although this one with the towel is fantastic, and we now understand that the gold lame is, in fact, his pajamas). Phim is very spastic and friendly. He has a ring on his pinky finger with a medallion in it that protects him from getting shot by large rifles. He explained this to Michelle through pantomime, pointing first to his ring, then making motions like he was shooting a rifle in the woods. She understood him to mean that his ring was made of a bullet fragment. Mary later had the same conversation with him, but was lucky enough to be “reading” a Thai  magazine that advertised similar amulets, so with this visual aid, she was able to understand him much better.

Nancy runs the Suriya Art Gallery and coffee shopsuriya in one of the other bungalows, and provides free wi-fi to the community.  She, like many of the other foreigners living in the complex, works with the Burmese and is now reading a thick, intimidating book written in Shan, Burmese and Chinese. She also wrote a Burmese-English dictionary with her partner, and it’s on sale at the coffee shop.

There are also some Thai families who live here. We don’t know them as well, but there seems to be a Thai sculptor whose bungalow “yard” is full of sculptures such as a huge pot tilted at a nice angle, an elephant head, and two large phalluses, which Michelle thinks are called lingam.  We don’t have a picture of these, but promise one in a future post.  We almost got to know our neighbors in the large bungalow a few doors down when we thought someone told us we could do our laundry at their house, and wandered around their bungalow, eyeing their washing machine, Michelle practicing the phrase “is there a laundry service near here?”  We realized after a little while that their bungalow was not in fact where we were being directed to go. We were glad to NOT meet them that time around.

deckOur digs are humble, though we do have our very own bathroom, fridge, front porch and a deck that overlooks the dank…is that a stream? is it a creek? is it a river?  One would think this waterway would separate us from the chickens and roosters, skinny, pecking and running around the grounds, but it doesn’t actually seem to serve any purpose other than to provide a damp accompaniment to our daily life.

We have many roommates. They are all ants.  Actually, there is one other mysterious roommate who leaves little piles of black stuff around the bathtub. A gecko? His call sounds like kisses. The ants go in a drunken, wandering line, around our wall, door and shelf. They also find their way to our beds to die, for some reason. A nightly ritual is to sweep their carcasses from our damp and somewhat smelly sheets onto…the floor.

chickenBriefly, we had a pet. Michelle saw this pet become the pet, when it climbed into a cardboard box lined with magazines in our “yard.” She thought, “maybe that chicken will hop into that box and need help getting out.” She waited, but it never came out. Days passed. Our concern grew. We realized we knew next to nothing about chickens. Michelle, not knowing what to do, began to feed the chicken. This made Mary a little nervous. With our phrasebook in hand, we tried to ask various people if the chicken was sick or having little chickens. To ask about little chickens we resorted to pantomime. To ask if the chicken was sick, which we didn’t know how to say, we said, “Does this chicken have a cold?”  People humored us, looked in the roostersbox, and said, “yes, that’s a chicken.”  Eventually, they took the chicken, and the box away, leaving behind only one soggy magazine that says “Happy Day.”  Michelle wonders every day what happened to the chicken and misses her pet. Mary, however, spends little time worrying about the chicken, which is gone and therefore quiet and, in her mind, the picture of health. Instead, she concerns herself with the roosters, the ones that fly-shimmy into a tree for the evening and then fly-fall to the ground to welcome the early morning hours with their “song.” She hopes that someone will remove them soon. Until then, she draws their “flight” pattern.

So, as we hope you can see, this is paradise.

Did we mention the heat?

… … … …dream