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Tew Bunnag

By Azucena Moya Photo Paula da Lua

In the heart of the Baix Empordà I met with Tew Bunnag, a grief accompaniment professional, writer, and Tai chi teacher. Tew moved to the Empordà for love. He confesses that he didn’t want to uproot his life in Greece at first, but that the charming and abundant landscape of the Empordà region captivated him. Tew was born in Thailand and speaks eight languages. He explains that he has learned that everything is part of an exchange through his experiences in grief accompaniment, his university education in Economics at Cambridge, and from practicing Tai chi. 

What is the essence of Tai chi that has enabled you to employ it in other areas of knowledge?

For me, Tai chi means experiencing your body in another way: opening up sensitivity. Slowness is very important. What we lose when we rush is how we do things. If we observe a route between point A and point B, Tai Chi addresses everything that happens between the two points. It’s not mental at all, but it opens us up to a sensory, physical, and emotional understanding.

Tai chi is also known as shadow boxing, or a dance of shadows. How does it relate to grief processes?

This practice moves with the invisible so we can integrate what is unseen – emotions and intuition – with what is seen – matter. That’s why I talk about the coherence between Tai chi and accompanying death. When a family contacts me to do an accompaniment, what I observe is the lack of tools and the lack of means when facing the loss, the emptiness. That’s why I share tools that come from Tai chi that help us understand the intangible and work with subtlety. I find it interesting to link the space of the body with the empty space that a body occupies.

What is death exactly? 

It’s the end of the visible and the senses. What comes next? Something is liberated, and I’m not referring to beliefs or religions, but there is something different in the matter. If we connect with this, with a change, we can also get rid of the fear of disappearing. Death is the end of reality as we know it. 

How do these physical and spiritual practices influence your writing? 

I like to write without obsessing about it and let things flow. In Taoism and Buddhism, as well as in Tai chi, there comes a time when you realize that you are a conduit. And you don’t have to make a great effort. In Taoism this is called wu wei: when you can empty yourself enough to channel something that materializes through you.

How did you start accompanying people in the grief process?

At first I accompanied them as a meditation teacher, but from a secular perspective. In 2000 I started living in Bangkok because my mother had Alzheimer’s, and I worked in a hospice accompanying people who had terminal conditions. It was the biggest challenge of my life. I learned to go beyond everything I knew and allowed myself to feel the person I was with and how I could accompany them without religion, beliefs, or cliches. Just my compassionate presence, my humanity, without fear or judgment.

Is accompaniment a calling for you?

Yes, but it’s still hard. Accompanying grief is not for everyone. But the advantages of exploring this field include better emotional management and accepting change. It would be great if public education could teach us how to manage grief processes from a very young age. Because people aren’t taught to live to take care of themselves and others. Science is important, and reason is important too, but personal enrichment and understanding how to manage emotions or old age and death are also quite important.