Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunrise at the temple: dancing in the architecture, prayers are everywhere.

With a take-away coffee in a cup designed for cheap beer at a keg party, I bounced in the back of a tuk tuk in the dark toward Angkor Wat to see the sun rise over the temple.

When we arrived, my driver Mr. Bros told me (loosely speaking) that he would park right here and I would go in there and I would come back to find him when I was done. It was pitch dark and he spoke hardly any English and I speak no Khmer except Aw Kuhn (thank you) so I was completely unsure how that would all work out. He pointed me in a Northeasterly direction. "Go." Okay.

I showed my pass to the guards and wondered how come they didn't have the usual heavy-duty "Hey Laydee" sales force at work selling flashlights. Many people had them and many did not so we trusted the bobbing lights of those in front of us and walked. I could tell there was water on both sides of me for awhile and then I went through a building and then along a long stone walkway. I crawled down some steps and then made it toward the tent with the lights and the people gathering at the edge of a pond.

We sat in the dark and waited. As more people arrived, we re-organized our positions for the best, non-obstructed view of the temple. We could begin to see it outlined in front of us, like giant trees or little mountains. A little later, more details emerged: lily's in the pond, pink in the sky, intricate carvings on the temple.

As we watched the temples, they watched us: hundreds of seekers in the dark, cameras ready to catch the moment of epiphany. Is this our consciousness rising? Will we Know once we have Seen? We take pictures to capture it, just in case we miss it. Enlightenment embodied in a quiet sunrise is more subtle than you might think (and then you also wish for more coffee while simultaneously becoming a little worried about the bathroom situation.) Oh, these bodies, full of want.

Once satisfied with the sunrise, I head to the Temple village of food and junk for coffee and toilet. I meet some young entrepreneurs who help me to realize that the genius sales girl I met the night before at the market, with her bracelets and her vast knowledge of American trivia (Washington D.C. is capital. Barack Obama is president. Michelle is his wife. He helps the poor) was just the first Cambodian I had met who had the Hey Laydee sales pitch fine tuned.

I didn't want to buy anything so I showed the kids a video of Simon dancing and the Talking Cat app on my phone. I thought we bonded just fine until they realized that for real, I wasn't buying any postcards or bracelets. They turned and left me, annoyed, like "Why in the world did we just waste all that time with you?" I got it. I really did. There are so few ways to make a living in Cambodia that they don't need to spend their time with me while they are working. We can bond later, when they are off the clock.

I began to explore the Angkor Wat complex and in many moments was completely alone as it was really early and the temple is vast. I started by a walk around the perimeter of the main building, the one we viewed at sunrise. To my left, a stand of trees with a dirt path down the middle that took my breath away: the slightly circuitous path made complete sense to me.

I started my way up into the temple itself, climbing crumbling stairs and meandering through the labyrinth of bas relief carved stone. Every time you think you have begun to understand the nature of the grand beauty and have created context for it in your pea brain, the next corner reveals something so awe inspiring you have to rethink the whole venture again.

A prayer everywhere.

You get lulled into magical thinking in this magical landscape and nothing can surprise you. Hey that man is blowing on my wrist to seal the blessing he just gave me. Look there is a cow. Look there is a monkey. Look there is an elephant. That lady is crying. They are dancing in the architecture. They've been on guard for centuries. The roots of that tree grew over a 30 foot stone wall.

You keep walking and you keep trying to reorganize the information in your brain and in your heart so as not to forget the individual moments of beauty plus to try to glean THE MOST IMPORTANT THING you were supposed to learn from the experience.

I do not yet know THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. I am working on it. But I liked walking back to find Mr. Bros and the tuk tuk (I did find him. Piece of cake!) on the same path on which I had arrived in the pitch dark.

On the way in, I was in the dark, just trying to get to where I was going without falling down the steps or into the moat. I couldn't see that I walked across a bridge, through a grand temple, past a buddha, down an ancient stone path. In the dark, I couldn't see the blessings all around me. But when the sun came up, they were all revealed to me. They sat there in their quiet beauty, waiting to be seen.

So it may not be THE MOST IMPORTANT THING but it is something. I felt it, my consciousness rising: knowing that there are so many blessings and beautiful things just waiting for me to see them, waiting for me to show up and turn on the sun so my life can be fully illuminated.


  1. Stacy,
    I love your commentary on Cambodia. Do be careful walking since there are many unmarked land mines left. I was so touched by Ankor Wat. It is a truly spiritual place and there are so many literally awe-some places. i was and am transfixed by the beauty and the history. There is, surprisingly, a wonderful teaching workshop near the temple in Siam Reap. They work with children, many victims of land mines, who are learning the arts of the culture the Khmer Rouge tried to exterminate. There is a shop, of course. Safe travels.
    Dance along,

  2. Stacy and Doris,
    Rick and I were breathless while exploring Ankor Wat, by the beauty of it, its size and powerful feeling of holiness...not to mention we crab crawled all the way to the top and breathlessly wondered how we were ever going to get back down! The arts school in Siam Reap is an amazing act of forgiveness, tolerance and perserverance. They are a treasure for their history and mission. We're glad we bought our Buddha from The arts school in Siam Reap and have it as a daily reminder.
    Best to you,

  3. Fun... brings back good memories.