Our experience of Ko Phangan is, I think, much different than what is typical. The island is famous for its full moon parties (half-moon, black-moon parties) and every month the southern beaches are flooded with party people from across the world. Conversely, the area we stayed in was filled with people who were scarcely aware of the approaching full moon until they saw the truckloads of painted, screaming tourists passing by on the road.
The focus here seems to be inward. If you chose, you could attend yoga classes, raw food preparation classes, permaculture courses, and psycho-spiritual lectures daily. It is a spiritual breeding ground due in part to the area's history as a Buddhist holy place and in part to the receptivity of the travelers.
There is a weekly lecture series given by an American psychology student and yoga aficionado held at the Art Cafe (our favorite) every Saturday night and it was at one of these lectures where I heard the most compelling perspective on psychology and spirituality that I have ever been exposed to.
The topic was 'An Introduction to the Integral Psychology of Ken Wilbur' and discussed the evolution of individuals and cultures using what is known about developmental psychology and expanding on it by looking at the experience of advanced spiritual practitioners such as yogis, buddhists, christian mystics, and others. It would be pointless for me to try and explain the theory in this post because I would undoubtedly miss all of the important points and because the scope of it is beyond simplification. Instead, I'll just try and relate some of the simpler concepts that may, in themselves, be enough food for thought.
The fundamental basis of the theory is that every thing that you can identify in existence, be they cells, planets, ecosystems, thoughts, symbols, can be understood both as a whole thing in themselves and part of a larger system. Example: a cell is an autonomous unit but also functions as part of an organ which is a complete entity but also needs exist as part of a body. Everything is a whole/part all the way up and all the way down including intangibles like language and culture. Example: A word has its own meaning. It is a whole made up of letters but exists in the context of a sentence. And when the parts come together to make the whole, the new entity has a greater significance than the sum of its parts would suggest. Example: You could never predict that by putting together a bunch of human cells, you would be able to experience that individual's unique creativity.
I'm reading one of Ken Wilbur's books right now and find it quite compelling. The Art Cafe also functions as a library which Robyn and I would spend hours at every day. I would read Ken Wilbur and, every few pages, try to explain the concepts to Robyn. As I read, they all seem so clear, but when I try to explain them, the meaning seems to be lost. It ends up sounding like a bunch of simple, disjointed concepts that are just common sense and have no practical application.
What I say is: "People are made of cells and then make up society. Isn't it amazing!!!" When what I am reading is explaining how humans have and continue to evolve, how to understand the human-environment relationship, how to transcend the limiting worldview that I grew up with, the value of feminism, how to understand the different paths of religion and spirituality and their inherent value and limitations, and what's going on in contemporary politics.
It's a loaded philosophy and I am doing a terrible job of explaining it but I highly recommend finding a good youtube video on the introduction to Integral Psychology or reading the wikipedia article about Ken Wilbur. As I said, I find it very compelling and think that it has practical significance.
I am grateful to have been on this island for this long where I've had the opportunity to intellectually explore progressive ecology and spirituality.
David J Parker