Monthly Archives: October 2011

“When you open up to life as it is”

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“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.” Pema Chodron

I really enjoy this teaching from Pema Chodron, especially since I feel it applies so well to my travels here in Thailand. She teaches us that by opening our mind and body up to the fact that things are always changing, we will not be as shocked and unwilling to respond positively when curve balls are thrown our way. Things are always changing for good and bad and we must open our minds (through mindfulness) to these possibilities. Chodron teaches us that what you may once have received as negative news or an unfortunate change in plans, depending on how you receive that news and what you decide to do with it, can always be morphed into something positive.

If we look at ‘life as offering endless possibilities’ we will then find more and more ways to recognize our true selves and to always practice mindfulness, compassion, and understanding. If we learn to live more in the present moment, to take each obstacle as it comes rather than looking into the future and worrying about what may or may not happen, we are that much closer to enlightenment and to truly being present in all aspects of our bodies. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Our appointment with life is in the present moment. If we do not have peace and joy right now, when will we have peace and joy–tomorrow, or after tomorrow? What is preventing us from being happy right now?”

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Wat Chana Songkhram

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I am sitting, cross-legged,
upon a rich red carpet.
To either side of me stand tall
white pillars, reaching up to
the red and gold painted ceiling.
Flowers adorn each wall, real
and fake alike. Before me,
beneath glittering diamond
chandeliers sits a large golden
Buddha, a marigold sash
draped across his left shoulder,
and upwards of ten other
gold Buddhas encircling him.
Two massive elephant tusks
stand on either side of the shrine,
one to two meters in length these
ivory sentinels stand watch over
the crowd of Buddhas.
A young Thai mother sits to
my left, deep in prayer. Her hands
clasped before her chest, she
doesn’t notice her two children
whispering and giggling beside her.
An older woman and what
appears to be her mother sit
beside them, engaged in hushed
whispers they exchange a few words
before each bending and placing
folded hands upon the floor.
Two men also kneel in the hall,
eyes closed, palms lifted,
they are now the only others left
on the red carpet other than myself.
I hear bells chime outside
the temple and I close my eyes
and say, “Listen, listen. This
wonderful sound brings me
back to my true self.”
Out in front of the temple,
next to many sets of flip flops
scattered upon the steps, tall
yellow candles flicker next to
hundreds of smoking incense
sticks. These candles are
wider than my arm, probably
the same circumference of
my head, and stand one meter
in height. Some are exquisitely
carved and some stand plain.
I get the same feeling of peace
in Buddhist temples as I do in
churches, but I feel much
more welcome here. Everyone
offers me a large toothy smile
and voices fill the space, making
you feel as if you are never
alone, never forgotten.
I raise my hands in prayer
and bow my head to the floor
in a message of love and thanks
to the Buddha for being with
me always.

1st Bi-Weekly Report

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10/26/2011

This past week in Thailand has seen us arrive in Bangkok, experience torrential downpours, flooded streets, the largest reclining Buddha in the world, the coastal town of Ranong and a tropical island monsoon for an afternoon. It has also seen us fail miserably at entering a Burnese refugee camp but has also reintroduced me to the Thai street market scene and the joy of failing to communicate with fishmongers and sharing nothing but smiles.

My pen has constantly been scribbling in my notebook, poetic phrases flowing forth as the swollen river flows through the streets of Bangkok. My shutter has been in a constant state of “click click clicking” and yet it is hard to believe we have only been here a week. It feels as if a month has passed since our arrival. Excitement rushes through me as I write this and look back on my poetry and photos so far. Merely a glimpse into the amount of amazing things we are seeing here!

I have posted nine poems/reflections/meditative exercises on my blog so far. A few of them were in preparation for this trip. Two or three of these will soon have a photo or two attached with links to my flickr.

I am almost done with Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace is Every Step” in preparation for my ten day meditation retreat in Chiang Mai that I will be beginning in a few days. Two of the meditations that really stuck with me as I prepare my mind and body for my retreat were his sections on “Sitting Anywhere” and “Sitting Meditation.” I know that the meditation retreat I will be in will be sitting for most of the day, upwards of ten hours, without a break. I worry about this because of the extreme discomfort I feel when sitting straight because of a back injury of mine. Hanh’s says, “In some meditation center, practioners are not permitted to move during periods of sitting meditation. They often have to endure great discomfort, to me, this seems unnatural. We sit in meditation to help us cultivate peace, joy, and nonviolence…To change the position of our feet or do a little walking meditation will not disturb others very much, and it can help us a lot” (17). Thanks, Thich Nhat Hanh, for giving me permission! He goes on to warn against the negative uses of meditation that some people fall into. Using it as a means of escape from our everyday lives, for example. He says that it is important to use meditation as a means by which to enhance our lives, to reflect on our lives, and to further ourselves, not a means through which to hide from our problems. He says that by practicing meditation for a little while every day, “we dwell in profound communion with life” (18).

I look forward to the weeks to come, to the Loi Krathong festival honoring the river spirits that includes people launching cylindrical hot air baloons into the sky, my meditation retreat, exploring the street markets of Chiang Mai, visiting a longneck village and some other hill tribes, and of volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. I plan on spending upwards of three weeks in Chiang Mai, experiencing all that the beautiful city and surrounding hills have to offer.

You can see my flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67320150@N03/?saved=1

Hornbill Hut

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I woke up with the waves
This morning, when the clouds
Had not yet lifted, and dawn was just
Starting to peak her head
Above the palms. As I looked
Out my window I saw the waves
Beating out their steady tempo
Upon the shore, and the fishing
Boats in our small bay heaving
Their nets aboard with the
Morning’s first catch. I walked out into
The low surf, let the cool waves
Wash over my feet
My legs
My stomach.
I stopped and closed my eyes,
Listening to the gulls overhead
And the cicadas on shore.
I felt the subtle shift around my body
As the ocean gathered for each swell
And then released me as it passed.
My mind stopped it’s frenetic worrying
And was at ease. No other thoughts
But to count my breath,
And I allowed the water to hold me.

Boat to Koh Phayam

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The great engine of our ferry out to Koh Phayam rumbles beneath me as I bask in the warmth from the bright equatorial sun streaming in the open window beside me. Bubbles and sea foam flow past in a loud flurry. We just passed the meeting of the river coming out from Ranong and the dark green-blue of the Andaman Sea. Brown met green in a solid line of color and then was gone, as if it had never been there, a mere illusion. A sparrow lifts and dives alongside us, following the wind trail of the boat. Out ahead of us green silhouettes of the mountainous islands rise from the dark waters, meeting with the blueish-white sky above. Small islands dot the horizon and fishing trawlers ring the shores.
Behind lie the cloud encrusted mountains of the Thai-Burmese mainland, rising in tiers then gradually disappearing into the haze.
Mangroves swamp the shores and only a few small specks of white sand peek through.

Ranong 10/23/2011

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We are sitting beneath the eaves of our hotel’s restaurant, watching the rain come own in great sheets, coating the jungle in a fine mist. Spices waft from the kitchen behind and fresh steaming plates of pad thai are placed in front of us. Clear glass noodles float in a sea of chicken, veggies, and unidentifiable tastes.

Earlier I took a walk through Ranong’s local market. At the front I stopped by the fruit stands. Fresh oranges, mangoes, asian pears, pomelo, and bright fuscia dragonfruit sat in tiered rows before the young girl, Yani, who minded the stall. We struck up a conversation, as best we could with two languages and a multitude of hand gestures. “What’s your name?” we asked one another. “How old are you?” She looked about fourteen but told me she was 24 and her friend (who had by now also joined us) was 22. She asked me where I was from and then said, “you are very beauuuu-tee-ful” and pointed to my pasty skin. “Kap-kun-ka” I replied and pointed back at her and said, “you are very beautiful, too.” She laughed and shook her head, tittering to her friend in Thai.

I wandered back farther into the market, passing stalls overflowing with curries and fried meats, fish balls, and small doughy patties and down a concrete sidewalk passing women sorting through mini red and green peppers, limes, and some kind of leafy greens. I stopped and knelt down next to an older woman who had small bundles of what looked like some kind of fan coral or urchin tightly wrapped in plastic in a tub by her feet. I held my camera up to her and mimed if I could take a picture of them. After a few more minutes of no common language and multiple hand gestures I took some more shots of the women who had grouped around us and then headed down into the bowels of the market.

When I finally emerged back into the open air I saw row upon row of women sitting amidst baskets full of all kinds of fish, prawn, squid and even three black-tipped reef shark juveniles. I greeted the women with a huge smile who was holding a large catfish, and got down on the fish’s level. I touched, prodded, and laughed along with the women at my responses to all the dead seafood and in turn got to share my first experience in a Thai fish market with some lovely, smiling women.

Tomorrow we are going to try to get into the refugee camp outside of Ranong. The language barrier down here compared to up in Bangkok is incredible and we had the brilliant idea to use google translate to try to get our questions understood in terms of where the camp was located and whether or not we could get there. Hopefully tomorrow we will have better luck. We were planning on trying to out to one of the islands near here for a few days but since the weather has been so bad we might just head up to Bangkok tomorrow night and then on up to Chiang Mai after that.

Lunch in Chinatown

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Tuk-Tuks and scooters rumble by
on the busy street outside the small
Chinese restaurant. Huge woks simmer,
steam lazily swirling to the fans above,
unidentifiable meat swimming in oil.
A deep belly laugh echoes back from
the front of the restaurant and quick
Thai is rattled off from an old toothless
man as he walks past. The sun beats
down on an already blistering day.
Sweat drips in sluggish lines down my
back and with each small gift of a breeze,
I stop.
And wish for more.