Transgender topics have been in the news recently especially with Caitlyn Jenner (previously known as Bruce Jenner) very vividly opening the door to discuss what it means to be a woman who was born with a male body. In the west, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is accepted by most people as being common. But what is it like to be transgender in the very conservative society of McLeod Ganj, India which is predominantly Tibetan and Indian where people have very few experiences of knowing openly gay or transgender individuals? Here these individuals are somewhat exotic and largely misunderstood.
Such is the case with Mariko, a very lovely individual who was born male in Bir, Himachel Pradesh and self identifies as a woman. She just recently came out in a big way as transgender in the Miss Tibet pageant in which she performed a spectacular dance on stage dressed in high heels and varying length of skirts which were peeled off one after another. The crowd, which was mostly Tibetan, and had not seen such a live show before, went through the roof! The performance was so well done that even though the dancer was someone known to the crowd as born male, now dressed as a woman, the audience loved it. After she was finished they stood, giving a standing ovation and chanting, “More!”
This was an enthusiastic way to show acceptance of Mariko by the community—however many folks are still confused by her identity.
During my two hour interview with Mariko in the garden of Kunga restaurant, she detailed her life as well as clarified how she identifies herself.
I was much impressed with how beautiful Mariko is. She has a charisma, confidence and charm which belies her young years—she is just 17 years old.
Yet Mariko stated very clearly to me that she identifies herself as a woman in a man’s body. That she in no way wants any surgery. That she is madly in love with a handsome hyper-masculine man in Las Vegas whom she has never met.
What does it mean to be transgender, exactly?
According to the American Psychological Association, “Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”
Which is exactly why traditional people in the community in McLeod have a difficult time understanding Mariko. She is born a male but does not behave like one. In fact, she has the fashion flair of a beauty queen and could have been an easy win for the Miss Tibet pageant, except for her biological sex.
But what does that mean in India? We have to remember that Mariko lives in a country where there is already a long tradition of transgender people. Indians who see her shout out and call her “Chhakka!!” which infuriates her because she feels strongly that she is not a chhakka.
Mariko is right—she is not. Let’s explain.
The hijras or chhakka are quite populous–they number between 5-6 million and the Indian government recognizes them with a special designation as a third gender and even gives them a special category on passports as other (neither male nor female). From an anthropological perspective, people who self-identify as neither a man or woman are considered a third gender.
According to Indian photographer Dayanita Singh who writes about a hijra named Mona Ahmed,”When I once asked her if she would like to go to Singapore for a sex change operation, she told me, ‘You really do not understand. I am the third sex, not a man trying to be a woman. It is your society’s problem that you only recognize two sexes.’”
Mariko’s presence in town definitely opens the door to discussions which weren’t openly talked about before, such as gay sexuality. She has opened the door in her own very charming way so that our community can in time join the rest of the world in embracing such diversity.
See Part 2 in our next blog for details concerning her life history, how she views being transgender and her future dreams and ambitions.
We find throughout Southeast Asia there are other examples of transgender communities in Thailand and Laos, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and so forth which are quite numerous as well. There is a massive literature about them and anyone interested can easily read more on the internet.
Doussantousse, S. (2005) “…The Lao Kathoey’s characteristics appear to be similar to other transgenders in the region…” in Male Sexual Health: Kathoeys in the Lao PDR, South East Asia – Exploring a gender minority from the Transgender ASIA Research Centre. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Jackson, P. (2003) Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand’s Same-Sex and Transgender Cultures in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, Issue 9, August 2003.
Winter, S. and Udomsak, N. (2002) Male, Female and Transgender: Stereotypes and Self in Thailand[dead link] in the International Journal of Transgender, Volume 6, Number 1, January – March 2002.
Author unknown, (2003) Human Rights Violations against the Transgender Community: A study of kothi and hijra sex workers in Bangalore, India, full text,summary, by the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K), September 2003. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
Harrison, F. (2005) “…He shows me the book in Arabic in which, 41 years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini wrote about new medical issues like transsexuality. “I believe he was the first Islamic scientist in the world of Islam who raised the issue of sex change,” says Hojatulislam Kariminia. The Ayatollah’s ruling that sex-change operations were allowed has been reconfirmed by Iran’s current spiritual leader…” in Iran’s sex-change operations, from the BBC. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Mitsuhashi, J. (2006) “…the male to female cross-dressing (MTFCD) community in Shinjuku, Tokyo, which plays an important role in the overall transgender world and how people in the community think and live…” in The transgender world in contemporary Japan: male to female cross-dressers, translated by Kasumi Hasegawa, from the Journal of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Haviland, C. (2005) “…The Gurung people of western Nepal have a tradition of men called maarunis, who dance in female clothes…” in Crossing sexual boundaries in Nepal, from the BBC. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Graham, S. (2002) “…Among the Bugis of South Sulawesi, possibly four genders are acknowledged plus a fifth para-gender identity. In addition to male-men (oroane) and female-women (makunrai)…, there are calalai (masculine females), calabai (feminine males), and bissu…” in Priests and gender in South Sulawesi, Indonesia from the Transgender ASIA Research Centre. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Walters, I. (2006) “…In Vietnam, male to female (MtF) transgender people are categorised as lai cai, bong cai, bong lai cai, dong co, or be-de…” in Vietnam Some notes by Ian Walters from the Transgender ASIA Research Centre. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Shim, S. (2006) “…Rush, catering especially to crossdressers and transgenders, is a cafe owned by a 46-year-old man who goes by the female name Lee Cho-rong. “…Many people in South Korea don’t really understand the difference between gay and transgender. I’m not gay. I was born a man but eager to live as a woman and be beautiful,” said Lee…” in S. Korea in dilemma over transgender citizens right to choose from the Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Heng, R. (2005) “…Even if we take Bugis Street as a starting point, we should remember that cross-dressing did not emerge suddenly out of nowhere. Across Asia, there is a tradition of cross-dressing and other forms of transgender behaviour in many places with a rich local lexicon and rituals associated with them….” in Where queens ruled! – a history of gay venues in Singapore from IndigNation. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Emerton, R. (2006) “…Hong Kong’s transgender movement at its current stage, with particular reference to the objectives and activities of the Hong Kong Transgender Equality and Acceptance Movement…” in Finding a voice, fighting for rights: the emergence of the transgender movement in Hong Kong, from the Journal of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2. Retrieved on 2007-07-22.
Overwhelmed by anxiety? Too many day by day decisions to make and not enough time? Long term decisions on life’s more important questions putting pressure on you? Your career? A change in your job? Or relationships?
Mindfulness is everywhere in the news these days. It’s all over the place and you can’t seem to attend even the driest of corporate strategy planning sessions without hearing about it.
We all know the value of mindfulness practice. It can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and increase happiness. It can make us more productive, more patient, more at ease.
So why don’t we just sit on our butts and get to it?
I know, I know. We don’t have the time.
But the thing is, a mindfulness practice doesn’t just require time.
Here’s what we really need to get (and keep) our mindfulness practice going.
Commit to Sit
Yes, I know. Commitment is a scary word.
But you’re reading this article, aren’t you?
Mindfulness is important to you. You want to cultivate more of it into your life.
So how do we do this?
As Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Our first step is making the promise to sit. Not just once. Not just twice. But every day.
This may be daunting at first. It may even be a little frightening. But, trust me. You can do it!
So say this with me:
“I promise to make my mindfulness practice a central part of my life. I will stick with it no matter what comes up.”
Set The Motivation
Many times we’re going to want to challenge the promise we’ve made to sticking with our mindfulness practice. We’re going to try to bend the rules.
“I know I promised myself to sit everyday but my mother-in-law is coming for a visit and the kid’s need a ride from school because it’s a half day and I’ve got to get my origami finished…”
There will always be a thousand reasons to skip “just this once”.
This is where a solid motivation can help.
Why are we working on mindfulness in the first place?
Yes, we sit to bring happiness and serenity into our own lives.
But if we can widen the scope of our purpose to include others, then we have a better chance of sticking with it.
Think about how our mindfulness practice can also benefit our family, friends and neighbors. If we work at it steadily, we will be able to cultivate more patience, kindness and understanding towards everyone we meet.
If we know that we can do even this little bit to bring peace, calm and sanity into the world, then we will be more motivated to sit.
Create the Space
So you’ve decided to start a mindfulness practice. Congratulations! You want to succeed right? The single best way to do this is to do your practice at the same time and in the same place everyday.
The time is up to you. For me, I like to practice early in the morning. It sets the tone for the day and I find that I’m less likely to be distracted as the world gets going.
Once you’ve set the time, create the space.
Keep your cushion or chair in one place. Make an altar if you like. Make it beautiful with reminders of what it is you’re doing in that space. It could be a statue of the Buddha, beautiful flower arrangements, candles or anything at all that changes the space into one that is sacred for you.
If you have a separate room for this, great. If not, a corner of your bedroom or living room will do just fine. The main thing is to have a space set aside to act as an anchor for your practice.
Once you’ve got a steady mindfulness practice going, don’t forget to treat yourself with patience and respect.
Sometimes your mindfulness practice is going to be great. Sometimes not so great. Don’t expect anything out of it. The results and benefits come over time. Usually it takes many years to see anything even resembling results.
Don’t worry. We worry too much as it is. Just make it a part of your life. Stick with it.
And remember, this is your time to be open, spacious and free.
Mindfulness must first be grounded on the cushion (or the chair or whatever spot works best for you). But once we’ve committed, motivated and stuck to it we can then begin to bring mindfulness into our daily lives.
Remind yourself to be mindful while you’re waiting at the stoplight, standing in line at the grocery store or even when listening to a co-worker complain about his workload.
Allow yourself to simply be aware while you’re eating, walking, watching television (or the sunset), jogging, playing or just taking a shower.
Don’t judge. Don’t evaluate Don’t worry. Just be.
I hope these tips help you in keeping your mindfulness practice going.
Experiment. Explore. Play. And if you get good results (or bad), please don’t hesitate to share what you learn!
Chris Lemig is an American Tibetan Buddhist monk and author of The Narrow Way: A Memoir of Coming Out, Getting Clean, and Finding Buddha (Mantra Books, 2013). He also writes about other Buddhist stuff on his blog http://www.monkleatlarge.com.
Things not going right? Got a bad mood which just won’t dissipate? Problems with your partner, mother-in-law or child getting you down? The solution may lay right outside your door!
What could be that simple? A visit to mother nature.
In my Tibetan community here in Dharamsala, people make time for a cham cham, which means to go for a walk, for enjoyment, without a goal, whenever possible. Born and raised in the foothills of the Himalayas, the mountains and forests are a warm and welcoming sight. Most people in McLeod walk to where ever they are going. But to enjoy a cham cham, this is purely a walk for pleasure, up into one of the mountain trails or past the market. It doesn’t matter. But for a perfect day, especially on weekends, people enjoy going into the mountains to have picnics or cookouts. It’s one of the simple joys of being here. What’s more interesting though, is that Tibetan friends also go on walks to clear their mind of troubles, as a form of therapy. “I’m so unhappy, I’ve got to go up in the mountains.” I have heard this on occasion as well.
What does science say? Well it seems the Tibetans are on to something. According to the Japanese studies being in a forest or “forest bathing” will bring about a plethora of benefits both mental and physical.
In the first study, researchers wanted to test the physiological effects of walking in the forest on the well being of people. They divided their study group into two parts: one group was sent to a park and the other to an urban area. The next day the groups were switched and sent to the other location. Each time cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability were cross checked. The results showed that being in the forest definitely lowered cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate and heart variability. What’s that mean? A walk in the forest will definitely boost your mood and make you feel better.
But it will also strengthen your immune system as well. Amazingly, in another study, the Japanese scientists showed that phytoncides (essential oils emitted by plants) which are breathed in during walks actually increase the number of white blood cells in our bodies which hunt down tumors and infected cells. This boost of natural immunity came when people in the study visited the forest, but not a city. What a bonus.
We all know that living in the city definitely has it stressors. What can be done if you can’t get away?
The Japanese have an answer to that question as well. In yet another study, they showed that even if people were confined indoors and couldn’t go out for a nature walk, it was enough to introduce the smell of wood, touch wood, or play forest sounds to bring about a similar relaxation response.
So I think I’m going on a cham cham today with some friends. Just start walking in a general direction and see where we end up. What are your plans?
To read more about the different ways nature effects our physical and mental well-being go here.
Design a beautiful nature day today with your partner or best friend, or family
Plan out what you will do from first thing in the morning until bedtime, include activities that all of you find enjoyable whether it be a simple stroll at the park, energetic hiking or kayaking down a river. Just planning the day and anticipating the trip outside will be just as enjoyable as being in nature. Then go ahead and enjoy the day!
Do you feel stuck in a rut where every day is a bad day? Do you see other people who have all the luck while it passes you by? The answer can lie in our perception of our own reality, our outlook, our expectation of the outcome of events, which in turn shapes our success, our luck in life.
How is that possible?
Let’s look at what scientific research says about this. According to a theory in psychology, the “Expectancy Theory,” the brain not only acts upon what it perceives but also upon what it expects will happen. Neuroscientist Dr. Marcel Kinsbourne explains that the brain can respond in two ways: 1) In response to information flowing to the brain from the outside world via sensory stimuli –smells, sounds, visual information and tastes 2) the brain also generates patterns of brain activity which are directly related to what it expects to happen.
Got a grudge? Do you resent someone who has made a problem in your life? We all have some memory that stretches back through the years—for me it was a strict 4th grade teacher, for others it may be a crazy boss or spiteful spouse.
Whatever the case–resentment is pretty bad stuff.
According to psychologist Dr. Stosny, “Resentment rarely goes away on its own, simply because it doesn’t produce enough adrenalin for the amphetamine/crash effect of stronger forms of anger. While exhaustion limits the duration of rage, you can stay resentful for years on end. Without the exhaustion factor, …fantasies of resentment persist long enough to … have disastrous effects on health and well-being.” Continue reading
Scientists have shown in two recent studies that giving to others makes us happy, even happier than spending on ourselves. What’s more, our kindness might create a virtuous cycle that promotes lasting happiness for oneself. As the Dalai Lama has said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
In a study by researchers in Great Britain, a group was divided into three parts. The first group was told to perform a single act of kindness each day for 10 days. The second group was instructed to do something new each day for 10 days. The third group was told to do nothing for ten days. The findings showed that the first group who performed good deeds came out feeling much happier than the group which did nothing. Yes it’s that simple—go out on a limb, be kind, put money in a parking meter for a stranger of buy a Starbucks for a fellow customer. Not only that but it gets more interesting in the next study.
If you could add ten years to your life—would you do it? Have better health and a stronger immune system?
According to science we all can do this by simply… Being optimistic!
Positive psychologists and biologists have been whittling away at a more profound and simple approach to longevity—by being optimistic. Research suggests this may be in part due to positive emotions which undoes the physiological damage that negative emotions bring to the cardiovascular system. It is measurable by checking the length of DNA at the end of the chromosome called telomeres which researchers believe that are the key to long life. If one’s telomeres are long, you have many years ahead. If your telomeres are short, one’s lifespan is shortened considerably. Optimists have longer telomeres. See my last blog about the nuns’ study by researchers from the University of Northern Kentucky. Continue reading
The monks took a happiness test in my IBD class earlier in the week. Can you guess how they scored in contentment/overall happiness in their lives?
It may not come as a surprise–nearly 75% of the class scored very happy while the remainder scored as an average happy. In other words, no one was unhappy. Everyone was happy, but to varying degrees. What do the results mean? What does happiness mean to a monk? I asked for definitions from the class and they came up with these answers: