Slowly, I’m trying to get back into reality of things here in Sydney. I woke up quite late this morning after a late night of reading and thinking. I was glad to wake up motivated enough to continue on with my daily systems. Just because i’m not in Cambodia, it does not mean my mission stops. When you are on a mission like this, it never shuts off.
Since coming back here, i’ve gained some more clarity as to where I would like to take things. In Cambodia, my main focus was on humanitarian work. Developing people through education and technology was a main focus area of mine. Having worked for eOcambo and then FEFA, I was able to educate those around me. The Cambodians are in need of education and developmental resources due to the lack of. As a result of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in the 1970s, it has taken its toll on their education system, resulting in one of the worst humanitarian crisis’ in Cambodian history. Now, they are working hard to rebuild their education system which is so far behind most of the world.
Here in Australia, my main focus is on mental and emotional health. I thought once about going down the field of mental illness, but I think we should address something before we look into mental illness. Illness can be the result of poor health, so if we can address that, then we can work towards helping people put preventative measures in place so that mental and emotional illness doesn’t have to be such a debilitating issue. I really believe that a lot of the emotional and mental illnesses that people suffer from here is to due a lack of emotional and mental health. It’s like the physical body. You don’t wait around for the body to be struck with disease in order to make change. You put preventative measures in place by keeping healthy so you can avoid disease as much as possible.
Through my research, i’m slowly realising just how plastic our minds are. Neurologically speaking, we can amend and prime our minds, making way for new and effective methods of health promotion and illness prevention. Its crazy when you make you comparisons between life in Cambodia compared to life in Australia.
During my time in Cambodia, I was so interested to know what the young people had to say about mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Some of them had no clue what it was. I would explain the epidemic that is occuring in the West – mental and emotional illness. Some would ask, “why do so many people feel this way in your country?”. I had no answer and I still don’t. I will never have a clear answer. In some ways, it’s a concept that may require some level of subjectivity. Maybe, solely focusing on science would be far too black and white for such an abstract topic like this one. I believe this is where you will find the overlay of science and spirituality come together. With spirituality, we have more flexibility which is beneficial when we are talking about a concept that seems abstract as something like one finding a sense of ‘purpose’ in their life.
Through my findings, I noticed a certain pattern in the Cambodian people and their way of life. Every time I would speak to a young Cambodian, I would make an effort to go back into their past and learn more about their childhoods, as these periods of one’s life can hold many clues as to why someone is the way they are today. A lot of them have extraordinary stories where work and hardship began at very early ages. Some of the Cambodians who I have spoken to started labour intensive work at the ages of just 10 years old. Compare that to the life of the average 10 year old in sydney and it is just incomprehensible. Imagine our 10 years olds taking 2 kilometre walks through jungle or rice fields in the sweltering heat, just to collect something as simple as fresh drink water for their families. It’s just not a thing here in Sydney.
This goes back to the concept of purpose. I once heard that purpose is all about one being attentive to their environment. I was once under the impression that having purpose meant I had an end destination to run towards. I thought that happiness came with purpose, as a complimentary gift, but I am starting to believe that happiness and passion is simply just the byproduct of pursuing a path that has no end destination. It is full of obstacles and hardship.
In cambodia, the sense of purpose seems to be deliberate and intentional. Being attentive to their environment means deliberately going out to hustle in order to supply enough food to feed a family and educating oneself to break the vicious cycle of poverty that seems to be so prevalent in Cambodian society. This deep and deliberate hustle requires one to be constantly attentive to their environment. It gives the people of Cambodia a strong sense of purpose. I’ve sat down with many young Cambodians to ask what impact they would like to have on their community, and the clarity of their answers makes me wonder whether being born and raised in poverty changes ones perception in regards to what achieving success in one’s life means. When brought up in an environment where food is scarce and death comes at a much cheaper price, life is less about attaining things and more about one’s survival.
Lets bring it back to Western civilization. I’ve never really had the chance to sit down with people to ask them what impact they would like to make on their communities. I dont think its something that pops up very often because there seems to be a lack of problems. Well, that’s what we may think. However, since returning, i’ve started to observe something quite different. There are many problems and these are less to do with poverty and scarcity and more to do with finding meaning in our lives.
So, are our lifestyles to blame? Yes and no. In terms of resources, we have so much. We have some of the best science and technology in the world. Sydney is one of the most elite cities in the world, home to some of the best educational facilities, hospitals and research centres. Yet, we struggle to find that right balance of mental and emotional health. Why is this? I can give you the cliche answer – money cannot buy happiness. As true as the cliche happens to be, it does not help anyone.
I’ve been doing further thinking, and what I have found is that our lavish lifestyles, full of abundance and predictability may be a contributing factor. When I go back to this notion of purpose – being attentive to your environment and doing what your environment requires of you, I wonder whether its a lack of purpose that promotes this unhealthy new rise in emotional and mental suffering. You go to University, you get a job and you go through the motions and this can sometimes become a robotic, monotonous process. That deliberate, intentional approach that comes with being attentive to your environment tends to diminish and some tend to enter into this autopilot mode of numbness. By this stage, we have stopped becoming attentive to our environment. We have stopped serving our environment and our focus shifts to a more self absorbed place. This sucks the meaning from our life, as we continue to go through the motions, absent minded. With less external suffering due to our orderly, luxurious and safe surroundings, the problems tend to manifest themselves from within. This is when mental and emotional health tend to deteriorate. Life slowly loses its meaning, as we are not required to serve our external reality.
So, maybe finding purpose and meaning in life is less about you and more about what is required of you at any given moment or period of time. Should we ask then – what must be repaired? What tasks are waiting to be performed? When I look at the bigger picture and I remove the ego, what is it that my environment requires of me? What is the biggest contribution I am capable of making to the lives of those around me, to my community and to humanity as a whole?