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. He 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.