Panita Hansen, Government Officer, Dept. of Home Affairs
It does not matter how old Ms Panita Hansen is, she will always be a free spirit. When she was in her late 20s, she quit her job in Thailand and moved to Australia in search of the unknown.
Fast forward to almost three decades later, Ms Hansen is now living the best life she could ever dream of. As a government officer at Department of Home Affairs, she truly believed she had everything: an honorable job, a nice house, happy marriage, and a beautiful daughter. But that thought changed when she has begun practicing Vipassana (Mindfulness) meditation.
Born to a middle-class Thai-Chinese family, Ms Hansen had a classic Chinese upbringing. As a middle sister of eight siblings, Ms Hansen witnessed gender inequality on a daily basis. Her parents always prioritized and pampered her brothers in everything, resulting in the girls having to do the household chores not only for themselves but also their brothers. One of her most vivid childhood memories is her brothers leaving the dining table without having to help clear the table or wash the dishes.
“I’m quite rebellious by nature since I was little, I’ve always been strong-minded and straight-forward. When I see something wrong, I will point it out. That’s why injustice upsets me. Those experiences also made me value honesty and freedom very much,” she says.
Beneath her soft, smiling face lied the adventurous spirit. As a staff at Thai Airways International, Ms Hansen got a chance to what she loved often: travelling. But there was one trip that changed her life forever.
“While I was staying there, a light bulb went on in my head! I said to myself, ‘I’m not ready to settle with what I have now. I want more. I want to find my life goal and see the world’,” she recalls, noting the decision was not that easy as she already had a good career.
She went there as a student first, worked at odd jobs, and returned to Thailand briefly before flying to work there again. Upon her second return home due to her mother’s request, she realized she related better to the Western culture. The young woman bought a one-way ticket and embarked on his third journey.
Life was good with some ups and downs. Ms Hansen says she felt alive and relished all the challenges in the foreign land. Through hard work, her life began to settle beautifully and, in her own words, “into a perfect, fulfilling life.”
It was around the same time that she rediscovered Buddhism when her brother, a meditation teacher, visited her in Sydney. Seeing her looking quite stressed with work, he suggested she practice meditation.
“It was the moment I recalled that I used to practice meditation when I was in elementary school. The hectic life then got me drift away. I even resisted his suggestion and told him I was too busy although he proposed I do it for 10 minutes first.”
Ms Hansen admits with a laugh that it took her months to make time for it. When she came to visit her family in Thailand a few years ago, she signed up for a seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat. The rigorous, ten-hour meditation session helped her wake up early to meditate after her return to Sydney.
By regularly reading Dhamma books and surrounding herself with like-minded people, Ms Hansen has finally made meditation an indispensable part of her morning and evening routine.
As she has become more disciplined in the practice, she has found herself transforming into a new person and rediscovered inner peace.
“Before, I thought my life was already perfect and fulfilling. Now that I practice Vipassana and follow the Buddha’s teachings, I’ve come to realize there’s something greater ahead. The peace and spiritual fulfillment I felt inside is much greater than anything I’ve known.”