Archive for the ‘Laos’ tag
I have been doing a lot of research into religion and meditation lately, not exactly sure what I have been looking for in the process. I suppose it began with a wonder in terms of the religious significance of meditation – and where my practice of meditation finds its roots. I first began to meditate in what is considered either Hindu or Buddhist meditation practice about forty years ago. My first experience of meditation during my first year of university was in a commune which had a Buddhist orientation. A year later I took a course in Transcendental Meditation along with other university students and university professors. I began to think that though I enjoyed meditation, the practice didn’t fill what I felt was an emptiness, a hollowness within myself. And so, I let the practice of meditation disappear out of my daily life.
I didn’t see my immersion into prayer as a youth as part of the world of meditation though I now accept that prayer can be meditative. It took a trip to Aix-en-Provence in France where I spent a few hours in a sanctuary of a cathedral and followed the footsteps of centuries of priests and monks who walked the outdoor covered walkways in prayer that I made the connection between prayer and meditation. A while later, another visit to France and an evening in a cathedral in Avignon had me recall the altered states of existence I had felt as a child and youth in cathedrals in Ottawa. Simply sitting quietly in the cathedral and being mindful I felt the similarity of the feelings of mindfulness that I was experiencing when meditating. Prayer and meditation are practices which allowed me to connect with something bigger and deeper both within and without my self. I had re-discovered meditation, a meditation with a difference, a meditation that is grounded in depth rather than in being a physical practice.
And that re-discovery was soon followed by a return to meditation in my home. With my last child graduating from high school I returned to being a school principal and life soon overwhelmed me with busyness and mediation once again fell of my radar. Then a few years ago while spending a winter in Mexico at the edge of a quiet Mayan fishing village, I once again found the stillness and that stillness soon was partnered with meditation. This time there was a difference. Meditation was taken out of doors into the sunshine, into nature. With churches becoming places to visit and be photographed, my religious needs are being met in a larger cathedral, the open sky and a curiously more open mind and heart. And this has allowed me, to return to meditation indoors where I can still connect to the spiritual centre within when life asks me to be inside of a building.
This image is of the Pha That Luang stupa which is found in the capital city of Laos, Vientiane, a stupa that is said to contain a relic of Buddha. I am sure that there are a lot of stories to be told about the stupa and the people, but as most have learned here about me, the images are not really about being a tourist and telling tourist tales of places, information and history. There are many great sites out there already dedicated to that and I really don’t have the inclination or the discipline to do this type of blogging. Rather, the images are really just excuses to wander in a different world, one that is imaginal for the most part.
In saying this, I risk devaluing the work of active imagination. The point is not to create some fairy tale world of make believe, but to somehow approach stuff about one’s self that is hidden in shadows and forgetfulness, hidden from the prying mind that likes to think it “knows” everything.
The mind and the body via the senses are determined to limit the universe to concreteness, to the evidence that is placed overtly before the ego through all the body organs of which I include internal and external organs such as the mind. If anything contradicts the evidence or the facts that is stored, then it is dismissed as some “fiction.” People who operate on this factual level of reality have little to no patience with those who somehow perceive, intuit, imagine, dream other realities. One hears all kinds of comments such as “Wake up and smell the roses!” or “Earth calling, ______.” For someone like myself who often takes trips into “lala-land” it is a lot of work to block out the “otherness” that lies at the edges , above, beneath and within the overt realities celebrated by the “normal” people.
I can’t say as I understand the resistance that is generated to a deeper, fuller reality. Stuff happens, coincidences happen, wrong results happen, miracles happen, or perversely, stuff doesn’t happen when it should. It is only in allowing ourselves to wander past the self-imposed straight jackets that we get to tentatively glimpse something bigger, deeper, fuller and somehow beyond the limits of our human bodies. It is only in this way that one finds the presence of soul, that one nourishes the self from this soul.
And so, I bring photos here that open a chick in the armour of the mind so that I can go wandering in a hidden universe of the human psyche wrapped within the bosom of the wholeness of all that is and isn’t that is hard to name.
While in Luang Prabang, Laos this temple stood out near the base of Phousi Hill because of its incredible colours and graceful lines. The palm trees promised warmth and gentle cooling breezes as well as a proximity to water.
Between the hill park and this temple a vibrant market place was bustling with activity trying to sell handwoven fabrics along with rough textured paper made using rice, elephant dung, flower petals and other natural elements as well as food and other tempting objects that trigger a desire to own, to possess. For some reason I never entered this temple which is something of a rarity for me as I had likely been in most of the temples in this small city and the fact that it might be the most ornate in the city.
The temple is the persona, the face of the ego standing in its best Sunday clothing and displaying the best of who one is in the community. I felt more comfortable in those temples that were more nondescript, those that you knew were there off to the side. I’m more comfortable on the edges not standing out loudly letting everyone know who I am and what I am.
Along the Mekong River going north of Luang Prabang the small boat I was travelling in stopped at a very small village where I found this young family. The village is now a tour stop specializing in the making and sale of woven cloth and the manufacture of a potent white lightning that actually had a pleasant taste in comparison with most that I’ve tried in Canada and in China. This little family was attempting to sell bead work, mostly cheap trinkets. Being in the midst of the dry season, villagers are actually present and not working in the rice fields not too distant. My initial response to such as scene is to lament that parents would employ their children to do the sales work, placing a world of stress on pressure upon these children causing a loss of childhood. But, that is my stuff and I have learned to keep my own counsel and allow others to govern their own lives.
It is easy for me to sit in judgment of others in many instances as I think I know the difference between right and wrong. I say to myself “I’d never do that!” believing that somehow in a similar situation I would be able to think the way I do now and make better choices. But in truth, I don’t know what I would say or do in another life, in other circumstances. As I think over my own actions, I see that I have done things I would not do anymore. Yet at that time, I was a different person at a different level of self-awareness. I compromised my self in order to make it a little better for my children or for my wife. I was blind to my shadow and stumbled into hurtful situations for my children and my wife. With age and with some hard work, I have learned that ego doesn’t have all the facts needed to clearly think through the minefield of options. The biggest learning was that all choices, all paths are literally minefields because of both a personal unconsciousness and the collective unconsciousness.
There is so much remaining for me of my self that remains a mystery. Now, I am hesitant to make judgment – hesitant, but not unwilling. Because I engage in relationships, both in a face-to-face life and a cyberspace life. I am left only with being able to describe acts as having negative or positive affect for me, to me – and this affect is more about bringing me a personal darkness or a personal light that is felt by my soul. And in saying these words I begin to perhaps understand how at the day of judgment one’s self is the judge that chooses the darkness or the light, a personal heaven or hell in response for the life one has lived. I leave it to others to be their own judges as much as I can.
With many judgments set aside, I have begun to learn how to engage in relationship which is an act of trust. I must trust the other as well as my self as I enter into relationship, as I deepen relationships in which I have long engaged.
“. . . we bring ourselves to relationship. With scant knowledge of ourselves, we seek our identity in the mirror of the Other, as we once did in Mom and Dad. With all the wounds of this perilous condition we seek a safe harbor in that Other who, alas, is seeking the same in us. With the thousand adaptive strategies derived from the fortuities of fated time, fated places, fated Others, we contaminate the frail present with the germs of the past.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 32)
This photo was taken in Luang Prabang, Laos inside a Buddhist temple area where young novices live, work and study. I got to interact with them for a few hours over a period of three days mainly as an English teacher providing them an opportunity to practice their skills which are fairly week. There was a deep appreciation given for the time I spent with them in a group as well as in several one-on-one encounters in the courtyard. In many ways, I could see that an extended period of time spent in Luang Prabang would be very rewarding for anyone needing time, quiet and a sacred spacial container for anyone needing a time out for the healing of soul.
I am seeing changes in myself as a result of the time I spent in IndoChina. I have returned to my teaching post here in China with a different vision, one that is looking out at the world in hopes of finding a pathway that is more engaged. Because of the shadows that are seizing control of governments, corporations and communities I find a need to take my journey of individuation into the outer world. It means I will be more politically engaged. It is as though sitting still within myself becomes an excuse rather than an honouring of self. I am learning that it isn’t an either/or choice. I am becoming aware that I can do both and in the process achieve a balance for myself, something that has always been difficult.
These young monks go to classes to learn the realities of the outer world. They move through their communities engaged in their quiet manner, returning to the temple dorms to take part in rituals and to do the prosaic tasks of life. And, they play. Balance between inner and outer.
As I walked through a morning market in Luang Prabang, I saw this older man who was intently staring at nothing in the outer world. All that was left was either a focused concentration on the inner world or else a “vacancy” due to the hazards of living a hard life. From my observations, I would guess the latter. We don’t all have the grace of consciousness as we age. Wisdom and old age do go together, but the gift of wisdom isn’t given to all, likely even most humans.
Wandering through the villages and the countryside I see so much poverty that it breaks the heart. Though I am not even close to being a wealthy man in western world terms, rather I am a simple middle-class person who has earned a small pension after decades of working in education, I see that I am grotesquely wealthy in comparison.
Thankfully I don’t care to own much and find that I have too much stuff as it is so I am comfortable enough and feel almost rich regardless of what my peers and community define as rich. I live simply and don’t spend all the pension money I get when at home in Canada and so I am able to put away funds for trips that will feed my hunger for knowledge, for understanding. I want to learn so that one day I will have enough to say to put into a book that will be my memorial, a gift to whoever would find the book and read it. What I am doing now is my apprenticeship.
I took this photo yesterday evening and was pleased how just as I saw the possibilities, aimed and shot, this image appeared. As I write this, I am tired, very tired. My sleep is as busy as my day with images overflowing in all directions. Sometimes I think it is best if I find a way to be quiet and just let the images speak their own language. Yet, I feel compelled to pull words out from within me, not knowing what I will say, but trusting to the impulse.
I feel somewhat like this young man, casting my net out into the waters of the unconscious, in hopes of netting something that will feed me, and perhaps feed others. So, I continue this journey of images through Indochina. The images will bring ripples to my psyche and result in moving me further down a road I know I am supposed to be travelling.
I visited a lot of different temples in Luang Prabang and had not thought I would use any of the temple photos for today’s post – that is until I got to the Vat Visoun Temple. There on a tree was this sign, a translation of one of the head monks from past times.
Four Groups of People
Those who go from darkness to darkness;
Those who go from darkness to light;
Those who go from light to light;
Those who go from light to darkness.
As I understand it – darkness equates to unconsciousness and light equates to consciousness. But, in the Buddhist thought as I understand it, and I am by no means an authority, darkness is more that unconsciousness, it is choosing darkness, choosing dark deeds. And light is about choices and actions that enable light to shine from Self, through oneself onto others so that life is made better.
So much to think about. Individuation demands us to move to the light and to take this light to others, and give service so that one’s light can serve as a guiding light, a beacon, for others. Hmmm? Maybe not so different when all is said and done?
I was almost tempted to do a bit of photo editing with this photo taken just a few hours ago just before sunset here in Vientiane, Laos. The scene is the Mekong River as seen from the fifth floor outdoor restaurant in Vientiane, looking across the Mekong River toward Thailand. I was initially worried that there wasn’t enough “light” because I was facing into the west making the picture darker than it was. But, the thought to edit lasted about a half a second at most and I decided to leave it “as is.”
The afternoon spent in various temples as well as a book I am reading on my e-Reader have left me in a pensive mood. I think back to my original foray into Transcendental Meditation in the early 70s, reading Siddhartha by Hemann Hesse back in the same time period and find some peace in meditative approaches that have come to me naturally in the second half of my life. Perhaps it is because I find myself approaching life in the older lane to be a contemplative time. Regardless of the reason, the temples of Buddhism, Hinduism, and a collection of animistic beliefs find a resonance in terms of honouring the unknown.
I am not drawn to any particular “religion” though I am drawn to a more spiritual life. For me, religions and a spiritual life don’t exactly go together. One can be spiritual with a professed religion as one can be rigidly religions without having a spiritual bone in one’s body.I am drawn to the numinous such as is found in this photograph. For me, it is telling that it contains water, land and sunset colours.
I belong to the earth and water, I am made up of both earth and water. And in the natural flow of life, I will return to the natural elements from which I came. And in the meantime, meaning will arise from how I life my life through both my attitude and my actions.