I am not an attentive follower of daily news, but this past week I sat up and took notice. The election results in Burma, returning Aung San Suu Kyi and 43 members of her National League for Democracy to the Burmese Parliament, made me want to dance in the street. Like many westerners, I have been inspired for decades by the quiet grace and heroism of this exceptional woman. I have also been inspired by the country to which she is committed: it is thirty years to the week since I was lucky enough to visit Burma. I still treasure my  adventures there as one of the best periods of my life, even though the grasshopper kebab I ate on the train to Mandalay made me violently sick for weeks afterwards. I particularly loved the way secular and spiritual life flowed in and out of each other – the Theravada Buddhist tradition, to which Aung San Suu Kyi belongs, has deep roots in Burmese culture. One of its customs is that of ‘shinbyu’, the initiation of young boys from ordinary families  into the monastic tradition, where they live as novice monks for a short period of time and depend on gifts from the lay community for support. On my visit, these young boys seemed to be everywhere, racing about in their saffron robes and throwing water at unsuspecting travellers (it was the time of the water festival, and this is one of the ways the festival is celebrated – very refreshing since the weather is blisteringly hot!)

Suu Kyi’s autobiography, Freedom from Fear, has pride of place on my bookshelves. The chapter in her book which looks at fear starts by stating, ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’ For Suu Kyi, it is fear that stifles and slowly destroys our sense of right and wrong. I often return to this observation – not only when I am weighing up important life decisions but also in the simple acts that make up day-to-day living. What is it that is influencing my responses to others – is it fear, and if so, what is it that I am afraid of? I have brought up my children to fear nothing, to question everything and to respect what they do not understand. I did not understand very much on my journey around Burma all those years ago, but wherever I went, from the Shwedagon Pagoda to the temples of Pagan, I could tell that I was in a country of peace-loving people and that peace here went hand in hand with joy.  It is exhilarating to see that joy return.

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