ARTillery Art Cafe - Phnom Penh

Cambodia has a thriving art scene, something that comes as a surprise and a constant joy to foreign visitors. Young Cambodian artists are filled with energy and ideas, and the galleries are filled to overflowing with the most amazing talent and enthusiasm.
One of the people who has been harnessing much of this creativity is expatriate Filipino Loven Ramos.
Loven Ramos and co-owner Emma

 I had the pleasure of meeting Loven and his wife at their incredible hotel in Siem Reap a few weeks ago. This place, called 1961, is fast becoming the hippest hotel in all of Cambodia, and is already attracting rave reviews from hipsters and artsy types across the globe. My dear friend and teacher Jan Cornall recently conducted a writing workshop there, and the hotel also serves as a gallery space (and a fantastic restaurant, too).
ARTillery is Ramos' first venture in Phnom Penh, and it has all of his quirky hallmarks.

Hidden down a back alley near Wat Botum, it is housed in a gorgeous old residence that has been gutted and recreated in his trademark artist's warehouse style. It has a fantastic cafe serving a unique range of dishes (I'm headed there for lunch today, in fact), a quirky and wonderful gift shop featuring reasonably-priced but totally unique handmade pieces perfect for souvenirs for friends back home. I loved the Cambodia-themed scarves and the screen-printed kramas, and my Cambodian friends wanted the t-shirts featuring obscure SE Asian comic-book characters.

Screen-printed krama

There is, as well, an exhibition space which will feature notable Cambodian and international artists.

Is Selfishness Necessary?

Today I have a really challenging and thought-provoking guest post from Australian author, healer and psychotherapist Avril Carruthers. More about Avril at the end of the post:

Do We Need to Get Rid of Selfishness?

Someone asked how to get rid of selfishness – ‘every little last bit’.

Maybe the Dalai Lama knows. He wrote a book about it:

H.H. the Dalai Lama, (2003) Heart of Compassion, Lotus Press.

Actually I think selfishness is a necessary part of evolution.

In one theory, notably Ken Wilber's 1981 book Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, before people evolve they are in a pre-personal, barely conscious state of consciousness, much like an animal, caring for others because it makes more sense to survive as a group and offers greater protection. In this stage, needs for food, water, shelter, propagation of the species are met instinctually. In third world countries, where slums and shanty towns are common, this is a state where people can often seemingly survive quite happily - at least they appear always to be smiling - because everyone they know is in the same boat. Solidarity and mutual support is the norm here, but it's rare for anyone who comes from these environments to stand up to make a difference, or to contribute to the greater good, apart from themselves and their own families. But I wouldn't call this selfishness, just survival. It's pre-personal because I don't consider myself any different to my neighbour, and if my survival depends on the support of my neighbour, I will also support him. I don't consider anyone outside the shanty town or slum, however. They're different. They seem to be entitled to have more, while seeming to be unhappier. But I'm happy in my limited world, so I don't care.

Here's psychologist Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs:

Below the top triangle, self-actualisation, all these needs are considered to be basic. Self-actualisation is considered to be a meta need - a higher need.

According to this schema, when people are still in a state of basic needs, selfishness is normal. Morals and ethics are less significant, because they concern the needs of others, or the greater good. For someone at survival level, it's essential to focus on their own survival and they literally cannot afford morals or ethics. In other words, if you must steal food to keep from perishing, it is counter-survival to be moralistic about theft.

Above the pre-personal stage of existence is the personal stage - where we decide life could be better. This is when we stand up from the crowd and demand a better deal for ourselves. At first, it's selfishness. It starts with being unhappy with what we have, or haven't got. We want something better for ourselves and maybe our families. But the collective - society, even our old slum - doesn't matter so much to us in this stage. We want something they cannot give. We might be greedy for the good things we've not had much of, and we're prepared perhaps to take it from someone else. We might feel alone, because we've distanced ourselves from limits and deprivation, and also support. But ultimately, this stage is about individuating and differentiating from the herd.

We evolve, hopefully, from this stage to Maslow's meta needs state. It's still self-concern, but it begins to be a Higher Self - what I call Higher Selfishness and Wilber calls the transpersonal stage of evolution. Here, once again we feel as though we are part of some huge whole - humanity - and my neighbour's good is my good. The difference is we have in the mean time individuated. In this state, we can actually make a huge difference to society, and not just for ourselves, but for the good of everyone we meet, humanity and the planet. We are no longer limited by others' opinions or constraints, or most obstacles. We are active, interested, capable, innovative and can find creative solutions to complex problems. We're also capable of inspiring others. A great example is the initiative obvious in the TED Talks community.

So, how to get rid of selfishness? According to this, paradoxically, it's to meet your own needs fully first, and then to spread the good stuff around.

© Avril Carruthers 15th March 2012

About Avril Carruthers:

Avril Carruthers (BA M.Couns) has had a private practice in holistic transpersonal psychotherapy and healing in Sydney, Australia for over twenty years. Previously a nurse and a high school teacher, she teaches meditation and spiritual development and is an educator at the Australian College of Applied Psychology.

AvrilCarruthersApart from her qualifications in psychotherapy and counselling, Avril's practice rests on three decades of study and experience in energetic and spiritual healing with a number of martial arts, healing masters and meditation schools. Her second book, Freedom From Toxic Relationships, deals with relationships, the nature of attachment and psychic cords. It was released in May 2011.

Dying to Live

I am happy to host this fascinating and provocative post by Sydney meditation teacher and bereavement counsellor Michael Dash.

The Guardian recently ran an article entitled, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,”  drawn from the observations of an Australian palliative care nurse. The five regrets in order were:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. 
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. 
Why is it that so many people didn’t live in ways which really meant something to them and didn’t appreciate this until their lives were nearly at an end? 
Part of the answer must lie in something as mundane and obvious as choice. Clearly choices that were made didn’t answer these needs, or these needs weren’t as immediate, urgent or highly valued as those made during the course of life. 
How then can we judge what is skillful and then embody what we value in our daily choices; how do we not lose sight of what we most deeply value? The Buddha suggested that we do what is for our long term benefit. This seems obvious, but in a society increasingly obsessed with the desire to engender and grasp onto the fleeting and the ephemeral, this advice runs counter to tsunami of self-obsession in which we are (willingly) engulfed.
Interestingly, so much of the ability to exercise skillful choice relies on preemptive and skillful avoidance of what is not in our best interests. In an experiment done with four year olds, the ability to delay gratification to immediately seize and eat one cookie when two were available with just a few minutes delay, those who successfully managed to wait didn’t use direct willpower, but avoidance and distraction. They pretended to sleep, sang songs and did whatever was needed to forget or distance themselves from the siren smell of the cookie. 
The author of this experiment, Walter Mischel refers to this skill of avoidance as the “strategic allocation of attention.” Buddhism calls this renunciation or the skill of release. So, how to develop this ability? A Buddhist response might be to simply pay attention before the time of death to the very fact of death, its universality and unpredictability. In fact, this practice is shared with a number of the ancient Greek stoic philosophies and world religions. 
The practice here is not to develop a morbid or depressive character, but simply to use this practice to strategically allocate our attention toward what is important for our long term benefit. However, in order to do this, we also have to practice strategic avoidance or renunciation, simply staying away from what lures us to the shallows of myopic self-obsession, caused perhaps by the approaching tsunami of our own mortality. 
Rather than becoming obsessed with our own reflection in the shallows as a way of attempting to ignore the truth of our mortality, a Buddhist response suggests that we can benefit by choosing courageously to lift our heads up, gazing clearly at the truth of our situation and living a life here and now that best expresses what we most deeply value.
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