Sharing little moments, thoughts and stories with you.
We’re relaxing in the islands of Thailand after some illuminating moments in Chiang Mai. We timed our visit with the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals – also known as the Festival of Light. The whole city was lit up with sky lanterns, floating lanterns, hanging lanterns and fireworks. You know when you’re somewhere where you can clearly see the stars? Imagine a night sky filled with hundreds of tiny golden lights instead of stars, and that’s what the sky looked like in Chiang Mai for three nights.
I have a slight, possibly serious addition to mango, so the very first thing I ate in Thailand was mango sticky rice. We learned how to make it in a cooking class at Thai Cookery School. I can’t wait to try and replicate some of these Asian dishes at home. When using a wok it’s amazing how little cooking time is involved – the hardest part is getting all your ingredients chopped and ready to go.
And we learned about something else I have a certain affection for…elephants. We met one named Thxng Phechr (pronounced “tong-pet” which means “golden diamond”) at Baanchang Elephant Park. The park is a sanctuary for rescue elephants and has a program called Elephant Day Care. So we didn’t ride the elephant or see it do circus tricks…we actually took care of it for a day while our guide taught us all about the needs, behaviors, characteristics and qualities of elephants. It’s fascinating how much they are like people. Touching the skin of our elephant (3 inches thick), feeding and bathing him – was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
On another day we got up close and personal with people in Chiang Mai, learning about street life portraiture on a photo tour with Alan. We met monks and market ladies, seamstresses and silversmiths, and then there were these adorable school children. After allowing us to take some photos of them they started gathering little flowers and presenting them to us – so sweet! They had fun putting some flowers in my hair and snapping some photos of us too.
Educational activities continued with a two-day meditation retreat. I was curious to learn more about this ancient practice and its place within Buddhism. We focused on “mindful meditation” and learned how to do this sitting, standing, walking and lying down. It’s pretty simple really, but the point is not to zone out. The point is to be aware of your thoughts – to be mindful of them. Whatever activity you might do to exercise your body, this is an exercise for your mind.
For me the most magical moment was the sitting meditation we did outside at 5:30 am while the sun was rising. It was so peaceful hearing the sounds of nature around us and I relaxed into the thought that I could sit still without any expectation to do anything…this was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Part of the program allows for a “monk chat” – an opportunity to ask a monk questions about their daily life, meditation techniques, Buddhism, etc. So I asked about something that has puzzled and troubled me in temples I’ve visited in Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. Why are some temples and inner sanctuaries off-limits for women? What are the roots and reasons for this tradition? And do these physical restrictions limit women’s ability to access the divine?
I was really disappointed with the answer I got which boiled down to “because I'm a man I don’t concern myself with these things” and “that’s just the way it is.” Researching it further, it seems the practice stems from a monk’s vow of celibacy. Women aren’t allowed to touch monks, and even our close proximity in special areas is considered a threat. Women are not allowed to visit some temples at all when menstruating. I found this simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. It’s based on the belief that during this time women are impure. (Sigh.) It seems the path to enlightenment needs some illuminating.
Till next time,