Monday, June 20, 2011

A Timeless Calm

City streets swirl and pulse all around, the circulatory system of a place that never sleeps. In this temple, above the fray, a feeling of peace settles past the food and trinket pushers. Stairs of stone, numerous and strong, are flanked by dragons stretching their spines; pilgrims, both local and foreign, move between these spiritual vanguards. To reach the top is to feel complete in the present, wanting and daydreaming elude those surrounded by immemorial treasures. I can breathe here in this moment; I could live here in this feeling. My mind as clear as the blue sky, my heart as full as the ocean. The result of nothing bought or sold, but temples built from faith, centuries old. They line the path to enlightenment but stop short of giving it away. Only the dedicated can take the final steps on this journey and find the wisdom to rise above the inner battle of the mind.

One could, as many have, write volumes on the temples of Thailand. Even as their plaques preach impermanence, each temple stands boldly against the tides of time. A city, the second largest in a country of sixty four million people, has grown around temples like Wat Umong, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Pra Singh. Neon lights and dance clubs, expats and ladyboys, motorbikes and tuk tuks: modernity didn’t forget Chiang Mai. And yet, these bastions of faith stand no worse for the urban development all around. It’s as if the bustling city of today were always built with the temples in mind: the silence and contemplation they offer is never far when the frantic streets wear one down. In the sanctum of a city’s holiest space, time passes like wind over an open plain. Any mental barriers blocking peace are swept away, things that felt so important and unwieldy throughout the day are revealed utterly inconsequential when one moves inside.

It’s amazing how many things are secretly carried through customs when one goes abroad. Somehow, crossing an ocean isn’t enough to ditch your inadequacies. I naively expected my insecurity, penchant for melodrama, easily broken focus, etc. etc. to melt away as I stepped off the plane. I believed a change of scenery could significantly change the man inside. To improve oneself takes dedication, plain and simple, and no amount of miles or shifted scenes can make it any easier. In the temples, I feel progress though. I feel my mind part like the Red Sea, with the deeper, resplendent parts exposed. If any seismic inner shifts occur on this trip, it will be the result of time in this space. A month has passed here and for all the city and sights still left to see, I want to spend more moments sitting. Breathing. Thinking. Seeing more feels like less when my mind is scattered over the horizon. I want to be here, now. Present moment, wonderful moment.

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