Meditation is key

When I was on the Myanmar-Thai border living on a farm in Chat Pai Wai I was given a wonderful opportunity. In the two weeks that I lived with a small family on a large farm we experience a variety of moon phases. Most notably, the night of the full moon. The whole town seemed to change that day. Everyone was bright and colorful. Our host alluded to a big surprise he had in store for us. After a long day of working on the farm our tiny group of volunteers showered and put on our nicest clothing. Mind you we were all backpackers so ‘nice’ is a relative term  in this context meaning mostly clean. All seven of us piled onto a motorbike and a side car. We must have looked like a pack of idiots chugging down the road at record speeds, limbs hanging over the edges and clothing flapping in the wind as if we would soon lift from the ground and fly away. We puttered our way to the local temple to a small but ornate place of worship in a one horse town. We arrived late to the service so we kicked off our shoes at the door and scurried to the back. It was a full house. Most of us ended up kneeling just outside the door happy to watch from the perimeter. A group of elderly monks led the service in rapid Thai. I tried to sort through the words to make sense of them but in the late night after an exhausting day everything seemed to blend together. Even the group of 30 people seemed to blend into one being quietly chanting along to the monks. After a few minutes the crowd shifted and swelled. As westerners unaware of what was happening we jumped up. Arnon, our host, pulled us aside and handed us a bundle of yellow flowers, incense, and a candle. 2015-06-01 19.30.37He explained to us the importance of focus. The importance of chanting and meditation. It is to empty the mind but simultaneously joining it to the body. He instructed us to chant along if we could but most importantly to focus on emptying the mind. So we, as a group, started walking. One in front of the other and to the rhythm of loud music we started. I tried emptying my mind like he said but we were barefoot still and walking on gravel and the monks chant was coming over a old crackly speaker. All my mind seemed focus on was how painful putting one foot in front of the other was and only catching every other word in Thai. By the time we’d made it half way around the temple my candle had already been extinguished. I glanced around noticing that no one else’s candle had gone out. What was I doing wrong? Was everyone judging me? Potentially grading me on how well I was supposedly meditating?

It was then that I started listening. As a group everyone was chanting along. It wasn’t exactly lyrical. It wasn’t exactly pretty. It was rhythmic and sequential and strangely hypnotizing. Once I started to focus on the chant the rest of my thinking seemed to fade. My body focused on placing one foot in front of the other. And the worries as to how to relight my candle and where my group had disappeared to were quieted. I was just there. My mind was still.

When it ended I felt like I had woken up from the greatest deepest sleep. Like the energy renewed in me had been there all along I just hadn’t realized how to tap into it. Now I’ve lightly studied meditation and Buddhist practices and I won’t lay claim to any of them or pretend I have a clue when I don’t. Often it takes years of practice and patience to even get a glimpse as to what peace and enlightenment look like. I can’t even attest that that is what I caught a glimpse of under a full moon adrift in Thailand. But how wonderful it was to find something greater in myself even if just for a moment. And how wonderful it was to share it with strangers, in a foreign country, to the beat of a language and culture I didn’t understand. How it proved to me so profoundly that I could be found in the midst of being so lost and tortured if I just took the time to be quiet, still, and open. By exposing myself to and making room for the surrounding possibilities, the universe rushed in.

That damn back-lit tunnel

I don’t even know what I want from this.

If you would, just bear with me for a minute.

I thought it was ridiculous that this incredible amount of time had passed and yet you and I were in the same place. How years after our lives disentangled from each other we were both drawn to the same cities and same beautiful places; an entire world away from where we had been. I harbor no resentment or pain for what happened to us back there. In good time and along my way, those emotions let go of me releasing me from their rusty, noxious cages.

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Something is compelling me towards you and you towards me. Could be coincidence…or it could be the workings of the entire universe. An infinite expansion of both light and dark. It would be impossible for me to walk away from that.

All of these years, I’ve figured that we were walking in different directions. Perhaps, we were both so clouded with fear that we didn’t realize that the world had guided us towards the same metaphorical back-lit tunnel.

So I ask you: would you walk with me? Could I follow you? Can I please rest my soul at your door, old friend? Even if it’s just for the briefest moment, can I?

Memories of Asia

I started a blog when I was backpacking across Asia. I kept up with it as best I could on the limited technology I carried with me. But slowly more memories come floating back to me. As if in the shuffle of going there and getting here I pushed the memory away from me and it’s only now come drifting back.

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I have brief moments of happiness. They’re unfortunately too far apart and rare. But they do happen. When I was in Cambodia I visited Angkor which is the remains of an ancient civilization that fell some time during the crusades. Contrary to belief it’s not just a small group of temples that tourists just hit passing through to Phnom Penh going south. It’s an entire town, once a booming metropolis busting out miles apart. Each temple could take you anywhere from 60 seconds to 3 hours to wander through. On our way out of one of the larger ones we heard soft music. On the long stretch of dirt and green out of the temple we approached a group of tourists surrounding women wrapped up in bright colored scarves. They were dancing to the rhythm of some traditional song plucked and beaten on instruments I didn’t recognize. The women were desperate to get the crowd to join in. But the gathering was hesitant clinging to the perimeter wanting only to watch. Each woman would reluctantly return to the center alone. The girls I was traveling with were less reluctant to fight the urge to  learn something new. The dancing women cheered when we entered their circle. The dance was slow mostly involving a constant movement of the hips and intricate wrist movements. They showed us how to fold our wrists in rhythm to the song. It was easy to forget about the crowd watching and taking pictures. I forgot about how I can’t dance and how sweaty I must have looked. I relished in the moment dancing hip to hip with strangers and two of my closest friends. Everything blurred but still heavily contrasted each other; mirroring where I have been and where I was off to.

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When I miss you

My joints start to hurt. It’s like the reminder of you weighs on old fractures that never quite healed. The places you broke me burn like a cigarette pressed onto skin. When I miss you the world darkens and gets quiet. And I can’t seem to think of anything else but you. I can’t help but push and pull at my skin in the hopes my brain will shift to the slighter pain. The pain of missing you is a far greater burden to bear. And my back is breaking from carrying you around.

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Every minute I miss you is a waste of my time. Each second chipping away at a piece of me. When I miss you, I disappear. When I miss you, I’m gone.