Obviously, I’m the only genuine person here

Or, I’m trying to stop being a judgmental prick, and you should too

If you’re aware your picture is being taken while you’re meditating, does it still count as meditation? Photo credit to Michel Traas

I recently spent four months in S.E. Asia. Okay, okay — out of that four months, I spent a grand total of 10 days not in Thailand, but I don’t want to sound like I’m just another Thailand beg-packer claiming to be looking for a spiritual awakening while actually spending the entire trip drunk, stoned, and bedding prostitutes.

I admit, I did my share of drinking, pot-smoking, and lounging on beaches.

And bedding of prostitutes?

Sorry boys, none of that for me.

I very quickly grew tired of the fun-vacation-style party-scene and needed something more. When I say ‘very quickly’ I mean very quickly. One rave party had me deciding I was forever done with being drunk. I’m in my thirties. I’ve lived that part of my life. I’d previously put it away for a reason. Halfmoon Fest was enough to remind me what that reason was.

Point is, I only had four months to see Southeast Asia, so I didn’t plan to stay in Thailand for more than a month— and I definitely wasn’t looking for a spiritual awakening nor was I going to claim that I was.

But once I got to Thailand, I ended up not leaving until I had to return to the States. And despite my resistance, I did become…woke?


A genuine community

During most of my time in Thailand, I lived as part of community in a small village located in the eastern portion of the country that is not oft visited by tourists. It was a group of Westerners focused on practicing the general concepts of Buddhism, in a way that can better resonate with those of us brought up in industrialized Judaeo-Christian societies.

What the hell does that even mean?

Imagine the mindful living that all of us Instagram-yogi-wannabes preach but don’t practice. The community is actually called Mindfulness Project — it’s true mindful living without all the pretentiousness that tends to come in the yoga community.

Yea…I still don’t get it.

Hippie commune. Think of it that way.

*eye roll* Ugh. Too much positivity for me.

Wait, don’t leave!

That’s what I thought at first, too. But at the Project, instead of people only showing ego-driven, false positivity, while constantly trying to force you to “look at the bright side,” it is genuinely safe to express yourself in whatever way you need to in any given moment.

When a big, burly man breaks down crying in the middle of a meditation, he isn’t annoyingly told to see the silver lining. Instead, he is left to feel his emotions, which unintentionally encourages others to feel theirs. And when the mediation is over, he is met by a giant, teary-eyed hug from twenty people who’ve come to authentically love him.

People who offer to genuinely listen if he wants to talk, but who also don’t pressure him to do so.

People who display visceral emotions, unlike those you’ve ever seen.

It was in this space that I was able to learn to open my heart and let others in unlike I’d ever done. I learned that everyone has reasons for the ways they behave — and that assholes tend to be assholes because they just need someone to love them.

It was here that I felt genuine, childlike, blissful, joy for the first time in my adult life.

The Project volunteer team during the final weeks of my stay. Genuine, unstaged smiles. Guaranteed. Photo credit to The Mindfulness Project

Authenticity in the outside world

Obviously, I’m the only genuine person here

When I first left the Project, looking at pictures of other smiling people often brought pity. To me, their smiles looked staged. I imagined them all thinking, “Right mouth-corner toward right ear, left mouth-corner toward left ear, open just enough for teeth to show. Hold.”

They’d all forgotten that a true smile is in the eyes and I could see their sadness — that insecent, “What is this all for?” feeling was surely chiseling away at the back of their minds. Wasn’t it?

For three weeks, I found myself thinking, “Other’s just don’t get it the way I do. They’re all so fake and trying so hard to cover up their unhappiness being just another cog in the machine.” I’d learned how to show my most genuine self, and they hadn’t even tasted that sweet nectar of truth.

While I was sad for them, I also disparaged them — putting myself and my knowledge of living authentically on a pedestal far above their reach. I was almost happy that I was privileged enough to be part of this elite club that they didn’t even know existed.

But during a conversation with a friend I made while traveling, I realize how judgmental I’ve been of other people’s version of authenticity.


My friend and I got into a discussion on the topic of cultural appropriation. One example she provided is that if a Westerner were to dress in Buddhist monks’ robes it would be 100% inappropriate and blatant cultural appropriation (my wording, not hers).*

But would it be?

Yes, of course this is appropriation, Anne Marie. Get off your high horse and stop being so damn contrarian.

Calm down and untwist your damn panties. I’m trying to make a point. See, the Mindfulness Project is designed to teach people how to be their most authentic selves, but it’s also designed to teach non-judgement.

What if my truest self is someone who is judgmental? I’m not being very genuine if I pretend to accept others.

Trust me, I clearly know this challenge well — judgy is my favorite brand of sass, and I can be a god damn spit fire.

The answer lies in recognizing the judgement, questioning it, and deciding if you feel good about the assumption you’re making.

In the case of me discerning the authenticity of others— I am not okay with it.

What does this have to do with obvious cultural appropriation of the Buddhist robes and such?

Buddhism isn’t as culturally diverse in its members of holy clergy as say Christianity, but that doesn’t mean all Buddhist clergy are of Southeast Asian or Indian decent. Imagine a Thai man were walking down the street looking like an Asian version of Friar Tuck — dressed in chocolate brown robes with a white rope cord tied around his middle as a belt. Growing up Catholic with one in our church, I’d assume that he’s a Franciscan monk. I obviously judge who he is as a person for choosing to be a member of the Catholic clergy, but I wouldn’t make the assumption that he spent time in Vatican City and decided to start wearing priest attire simply because he thought it looked cool.

Now, change the image in your head. You still see a man dressed as a monk walking down the street. His hair is just long enough to reveal its blondness. His skin is white — possibly pink from too much sun on his face. His eyes are blue. His robes look a bit more like an overly large sheet wrapped around him — there’s possibly one shoulder left uncovered — but most importantly they are bright orange. These are the robes of a Buddhist monk.

Are you still 100% certain that the man dressed in the orange robes is appropriating culture? Or could he possibly just be a monk?

Stop making me question myself.

I know, I’m such an asshole sometimes, aren’t I?

The man who leads the Mindfulness Project used to be a monk and the description I just provided is one of him. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, white, German, Buddhist monk.

Assumptions and Authenticity

‘Any white man wearing Buddhist monks’ robes is clear and deliberate cultural appropriation’ is a dangerous assumption to make. We all know why prejudice is bad so I won’t lecture to you about that, but I do want to review one point: these types of judgments lead us to dislike people whom we’ve never even spoken to. Perhaps it’s just as hazardous for me to make assumptions about other people’s authenticity and happiness.

Judging others is a natural human trait that evolved as a survival mechanism, but that’s an entirely different article. But maybe, every time we make a negative judgement, we should stop, acknowledge it, and come up with a story that could help explain why we see what we see.

Maybe the white man in orange robes really is a monk.

Maybe others aren’t pretending to be happy in photos — maybe I‘m simply the same type of ego-driven spiritual prick I can’t stand to be around.

Maybe the crazy chick who types out conversations with herself expecting others to have interest in what she has to say is preaching to you about not being judgmental because she’s terrified of everyone else casting judgment on her.

But then again…those are all assumptions and we’re not assuming anything.

*A note before you go: My word choice of “Westerner were to dress in Buddhist monks’ robes it would be 100% inappropriate and blatant cultural appropriation” is my over-dramatic word choice. She definitely wasn’t this black and white — the idea merely sparked this writing in my own head, and it was a better word choice for the point I was making.

Sassy+Loving. Scientific+Spiritual. Nomadic. Always sincere, often wry. Hopefully romantic. Polymath.

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