Tuesday, May 24, 2011


We walked over to Wat Langka at our usual time, a little after 5 o'clock in the evening. We climbed the steps of the temple and into the sanctuary room, where the familiar orange mats and cushions had been placed neatly in three rows for any and all who want to come. There was only one other woman in the room, and she sat very still in the depths of meditation. We chose our usual spots, sat down, and closed our eyes.

My mind wanders a lot. I like to let it wander. As much as I try to focus on my breathing in meditation I always find myself thinking of this and that. I think about being in Cambodia. I think about my family and home. I think about China. I think about myself. I can be focused on the in-breaths and the out-breaths from my nose, but always in the back of my mind are thoughts. And as anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am not a very flexible person. Even sitting cross-legged is a bit of a struggle and ungainly. But, during meditation, I try my best to sit as comfortably as I can while looking a bit like the part, and I can always find a way to find peace.

My mind was restless, and my body was being fidgety. I stared at the woman silent as a stone and at Lauren perfectly poised, and I uncrossed my legs and let out a big sigh. I stared out the open window at the grey sky that was being flooded with pink as the sun went down. I decided to go for a walk, so I stood as quietly as I could and tip-toed out of the temple. I have seen people walk slowly in rounds around the temple before; it must be some prayer method. I walked around the walls of the temple on the balcony that looks over the garden of stupas below and the fledgling skyscrapers of Phnom Penh (there are few) in the distance. I was strolling in circles when I turned the corner and came across a monk. He was older, wore glasses, and his robe was a darker, more burnt color of orange. I smiled and said hello, tips of my fingers to forehead, and he nodded back. Then he began to speak to me in English. We were talking a little when I asked him if he was going to meditate. He never really answered that, but his next question of me was, "Do you know how to sit properly?" I laughed awkwardly and replied that no, I didn't really know how to sit properly for meditation. Then he motioned for me to come with him for he was going to show me how.

Lauren joined us, and we each grabbed a mat and a cushion and sat just outside the temple in order to not disturb those inside. Then began our private teach on meditation, how to do it correctly, and why we do it. The monk showed us the proper way to sit, right foot in front, left foot tucked in the bent right knee. If you are really seasoned you could venture to put the left foot on top of the right knee, as the monk himself demonstrated, but that is way beyond my body's level of flexible skill, so I stuck with the first posture (which even that was a little uncomfortable to work into). Then he showed us how to hold our hands. You gently cup your right palm over the left, and touch your thumbs together at the tip, forming a rectangle. You let your hands rest in your lap. Your back must be straight and erect, but not too tense. Then, you close your eyes.

You ignore everything in the world around you; the only thing on your mind is your breathing, only the in-breaths and the out-breaths at your nostrils. Nothing else. You let go of everything. You let go of the past, because it is in the past, and you should not worry about it anymore. You let go of the worries of the present and the worries of the future. All that matters is this moment right now, and your breathing.

You let go of pain. You do not feel pain, nor does it belong to you. There is no me, no I, no my. It is not your pain. You observe the pain, but it is not your pain. That is the source of all our suffering—me, I, my. But it is not yours. It is fleeting. You observe it detached, you do not judge it. And you release it. You notice the air rising and the vanishing. Not me, not my; you notice the pain but it is not your pain. My ankles and my feet began to hurt from sitting in this position for so long, but I willed myself to ignore it. But as the monk spoke, it was like feeling no pain and yet an innumerable amount of pain all at once. One moment I would feel it and I would inhale and try to focus on other things, like the monks voice, but the next moment the pain would be gone. If I can sit very still, it's like it's not even there. It reminded me of the advice from a travel book on Japanese hot baths; the war is so scalding hot, but as long as you don't move, your body can handle it. As soon as you move you feel the heat. It was the same with sitting on the mat.

Meditation has many benefits. Above all, it nourishes your mind. Educate the mind, shape the mind, liberate the mind. That is the goal of meditation. It is hard at first, but with practice it will be easier. Sitting will be easier and more comfortable, and meditating will be easier. Every little bit is essential, every posture crucial. We must always strive to correct ourselves when we feel ourselves slipping in the posture. Constantly check and correct yourself. For meditation, it is worth it. There is a peace and tranquility that flows throughout your body when you open your eyes to the world again. You move as if on a cloud, graceful and smooth as silk. You are relaxed.

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