Eclipse

Eclipse fever had been raging for months in my area of the county. The totality would be directly over my home. But I had already made plans in the spring to go to Nashville to see a longer totality and besides I was happy to plan a bit of a girlfriends road trip. We had booked hotel rooms in the perfect location, across the street from Centennial Park in downtown Nashville. Val, Becky, Tracy and I unpacked the car and put all the eclipse party necessities on the luggage cart; blankets, chairs, water, snacks and eclipse glasses. This was going to be an all day event and we wanted to be prepared.

Nashville has a special place in my heart because it is my hometown and I have spent many a happy hour in Centennial Park the home of the Parthenon and now the great goddess, Athena, all 42 feet of gilded glory. I couldn’t think of a better place to be for the grandest of astronomical events. Eleanor, Hannah and Sandy joined us bringing eclipse donuts from Krispy Kreme to add to the festivities. The seven of us headed across the street in the late morning and found a lovely tree that was perfect for our little party. We circled our chairs and got out the special glasses and watched the slow stream of people joining us on the expansive lawn in front of the home of the goddess.

As we waited Tracy brought out a dozen or so stones and crystals that she felt were meaningful for the day and I arranged them on an old blanket in the center of the chair circle. Several of the stones were aligned to specific chakras so I placed them in the appropriate order and circled them with other stones as an impromptu altar. We enjoyed the cool breeze and visiting, taking turns standing out in the cookie-bite sun to watch the progress. As the time of the totality approached, greater crowds from the nearby hospital and office buildings filled the lawn and about 10,000 eager amateur astronomers awaited the big moment.

It was spectacular as the world darkened, the cicadas started buzzing and then the flash as the sun was dark and the magnificent corona was revealed. The crowed gasped and cheered and I tried just to take in that instant of pure magic. In that moment the world stopped.

All too soon it was over and the light dawned again as quickly as it had faded and the crowds swiftly returned to their appointed destinations. It was amazing to me how just the littlest sliver of sun brought back total daylight.

I felt it was my job to make sure that the moon totally moved off the sun and that the cycle was complete so I stayed on under the tree and would periodically check that the heavens were still in their proper motion. It was in this time of quiet; after all the anticipation had past, my favorite moment began. As the our group of friends sat around the little altar of stones the crescent shaped sun/moon shadows started to move across the blanket slowly and gently lighting each chakra stone in order from the base to the crown. Each stone had a few moments to shine in the sun before the next stone was illuminated, then the next and then the next. The little waning moon shapes danced across the stones several times over the next hour as we talked about our experience.

When the last traces of moon had left the sun, Tracy said a beautiful prayer of thanks and we gathered the stones and chairs and headed back across the street. By then there was just a handful of people left in the park. I was so glad I had stayed to the end for the eclipse wasn’t just about those few exciting moments of totality but about the entire eclipse from the first nibble of the moon to the final moment when the sun was full again. It was about the waxing and the waning of the eclipse, the entire experience. It is easy to just want the fun, exciting moments of life but all the parts of the experience are important. I found the greatest blessing of the day came with the quiet moments when everyone thought the show was over but yet the magic wasn’t finished if you took time to look. All of life is important, every part of our time of earth is part of the magnificent journey of our soul.

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Iona

Iona had been calling me for a long time. This tiny island, the last bit of land before the great Atlantic, is at the end of the earth. Ireland is 40 miles to the south but other than that the only thing west of Iona is the vast unknown. It is serious work to get there: fly to Edinburgh, take a train to Oban, then a ferry to Mull, cross Mull on a one-way road in a bus and then one more ferry ride to Iona, walk to the Abbey and you finally arrived. Why would anyone feel the need to go to such a remote place? Why would this tiny island call me?

The story goes that St. Columba got in a bit of an argument over the Psalms at his Irish monastery so he was banished to Iona and built a monastery there in 563 and thus credited for bringing Christianity to Scotland. The monastery thrived and the Book of Kells was written on the island. It became a major pilgrimage site and great honor to be buried on the island. The first major Celtic crosses stood in front of the Abbey and the remaining pieces are in the museum. But there is a power to this place that seems otherworldly. It is often said that “the veils are thin” on Iona and it is easier and quicker to reach heaven if buried on the island. Many years ago I read that it is an “Atlantis Priestess Portal”, I can’t remember where I read that but I never forgot that description. I can’t say for sure what the power is–history, geography, geology, myth– or what this island means to other pilgrims in the past but what I can say is that I had one truly perfect day on earth on Iona.

I didn’t go to Iona on my 2009 trip to Scotland, I knew that time wasn’t right. On this trip it was the final destination that all the holy sites on the way prepared me for. It was raining and foggy on the one-way road across Mull and the traffic was very heavy. I couldn’t see the landscape and felt like I was in a cocoon in the very slow moving bus. Every few hundred feet we had to pull over and wait for an oncoming vehicle. We finally arrived at the parking lot and I got my suitcase and walked through the rain down to the ferry and across the waves onto the ramp; no tourist cars are allowed on the island. I got to the hotel and settled in and then had a group tour of the Abbey. It is plain but it is hallowed ground. I visited the museum and took a walk. As I walked the path to the ocean I had the same overwhelming feeling of joy that I had on the Camino. Three black sheep grazing by the road added to my happiness.

That first evening after supper, most of the group went to the service in the Abbey. The Iona Community, which is dedicated to social justice, conducted a beautiful ecumenical service with singing and sharing of bread. Coffee and dessert in the hotel lounge with my dear friends ended my first partial day on Iona.

All day a song that I had in my iTunes had been going round my head, Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. The words are in Latin so I looked up the translation, I felt there was a message. “O Christ look with favor upon your faithful people now gathered to praise you”. In my excitement to visit these holy sites and have experiences I forgot the true goal of pilgrimage—-devotion. I was on Iona not for my benefit but to give my devotion to the Divine. I was on this holy isle to sing praises and give thanks for life. I listened to the song over and over, soaking in the beautiful melody and important message.

I had been watching the weather all week hoping that we would have a sunny day on our full day on the island and my prayers were answered. I woke to bright morning sun and the sound of mooing. I walked out to find a herd of “hairy coos”–highland cattle in the nearby barnyard. The baby came running to greet me but was kept at bay by a long-horned mother with gruff voice. I promised her I wouldn’t touch, just admire. After breakfast the hikers in the group met at the ruins of the nunnery to walk across the island to St. Columba Bay. We had a few moment to enjoy this place of worship where stones stacked by man and meadows provided by Mother Nature come together to make the perfect chapel.

After obtaining a few snacks our little group started the walk. The sparkling sun, green meadows, charming animals and the chatter of dear friends made the world even brighter and more vivid. How about the ram with such curly horns that they looked like he had spectacles on. Or my personal favorite, white fluffy lambs frolicking on yellow-flower meadows—ahhhh, it was almost too much to bear. Every step was like walking in a dream. Down the final hill was a beautiful, turquoise bay. The beach is a thick pile of perfectly smooth rocks and down by the water are innumerable green marble stones polished by billions of waves for millions of years. I was surprised we could walk back to the hotel with the weight of all our treasured stones which are said to give protection.

I went over to walk the near by labyrinth and had a bit of an encounter with the head cow as we were walking in open pasture. Apparently I was on her path and she told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell out of her way. Big bossy cows not behind a fence are not to be trifled with and I quickly obeyed.

Then lunch and a bit of retail therapy—that didn’t take long for there are only a few shops. I decided I needed more time in the Abbey to wander alone. I sat in a stream of sunlight and listened to the theme song of my visit on my iPod and soaked in the glory. It isn’t a fancy Abbey but the history and devotion of 1500 years makes it a powerful place. I sat in front of the stone crosses in the museum and thought about all the pilgrims before me and those to come.

After supper I went to the Abbey for the evening service. I was the only one in the group to go but I felt called to be in the Abbey as much as possible. I was greeted by the shadow of the cross on the stone wall of St Columba’s tiny chapel and then made my way inside and found a seat in the Choir. The service was more traditional with just a handful of participants. That was fine with me because I love traditional liturgy. I know it was a time of devotion but the service was absolutely devised by the Divine for my perfect joyful day on Iona. First there was a cosmic joke—the young Englishman leading the service was wearing a bright green tee shirt that said “Dollywood Tennessee” I kid you not!! Dollywood is just up the road from my home and I have been there many times.

The first song, one I knew well, reminded me of my dad. He was a very spiritual man and would have loved my pilgrimage. A few Bible readings and then another song. This time the hymn tune was St. Columba. Wait, that is my favorite tune—I’ve played it on the piano hundreds of times—I didn’t know that was the name. I play that song like a chant. There I was singing new words to my most loved hymn, St. Columba was already a part of my life. A few more Bible verses and then the closing song. The veil between heaven and earth was nonexistent as I sang the final tune as a two-part round “All praise to thee my God this Night for all the blessing for the Light”. I knew all the words by heart. “Praise God from whom all Blessing flow, Praise him all Creatures here below”. A perfect reminder of the message of devotion from the day before. My voice echoed against the ancient stones and I held my hand to my heart in pure joy.

I joined my friends for our final coffee and dessert to share our experiences of the day as the sun set for the short night on this tiny island outpost in the north Atlantic. It was a magic day—not of big experiences but of subtle joys of our beautiful world, meaningful songs, sun and water, friends and history all bathed in the light of the Divine.

The Dove and the Stone by Alice O. Howell

Christ of the Celts, The Healing of Creation  J. Philip Newell

Fairies

The second thread of my journey was to enter the magical world of the fairies. Nature spirits are integral to the stories and land of enchanted Scotland. It doesn’t take much imagination to see and feel the magic all around. The landscape lends itself to the dream state and entry to other worlds. The pristine beauty of the land with streams through yellow-flower meadows, ancient stone walls, ferns and dark hemlock forests is the backdrop for our fairy tales, our childhood stories come to life. So let me tell you some tales and visit the places of our dreams.

The first visit to the land of the fairies began my second day in Scotland. I arrived early to get over jet lag and visit some long lost friends in the Borderlands just south of Edinburgh. In this part of Scotland is the location for the wonderful tale of Thomas the Rhymer. Thomas was a 13th century laird who went with the Queen of Faeries to her world for 7 years. When he returned he had the gift of prophecy and it is said that he eventually left again with the Queen and was never heard from again. So off I went to find the stone that marked his encounter with the Queen. Up a narrow road near the town of Melrose, famous for its ruined Abbey, is a small marker with the story. Just a bit further on foot is the stone where Thomas first encountered the Queen of the Faeries and a nearby marker for the place where Thomas gave his prophesies. If only I could find this same magic and meet the Queen. I looked out over the lovely landscape and knew the fairy world was very close. I had tea just down the road by the last bit of Thomas’ house—the Rhymer Tower. Sir Walter Scott elaborated on this story in poem and Washington Irving used Thomas’ tale to inspire his story of Rip Van Winkle.

Marker for Thomas’ encounter with the Faerie Queen

13th century Rhymer Tower

My next encounter with the fairy worlds of Scotland was a few days later at Blair Castle just north of Edinburgh in Perthshire. This beautiful white castle was first started in 1269 and has over the centuries become an iconic part of Highland landscape and culture. In fact the day I was there the Atholl clan was having their annual highland games which meant lots of handsome men in kilts, a joy not lost on a bus full of women. Several centuries ago the nature spirits of the land came to the Atholl brothers and requested that they plant trees. So the brothers not only planted trees all over their extensive lands but planted a forest of exotic trees next to the castle. Oh My!!! This enchanted forest of giants was alive and powerful. When I entered their world I left my own and walked into another realm. The sound, feel, smell, sight of these beings was overwhelming. I wandered down the path amongst ancient trees so much taller than in the part of the world where I live. The cool breeze whispering in the trees perfectly conveyed the songs of happy birds mixed with the melody of the babbling brook. I really need some new words—magic and enchantment just aren’t good enough anymore. Definitely on the “return to soon” list. Oh and there is also a walled garden with ponds and bridges, nesting swans and cygnets—-ahhhh.

 

The fairy world reigns supreme on the Isle of Skye. I was still in total bliss from my time at Callanish when I took the ferry to the Isle of Skye and soon arrived at the Faerie Glen. The land contours form a miniature world of green mounds, tiny lake and low stone walls. If you can’t find your way to the nether world here you haven’t tried. I followed a mother sheep and her twins over the top of a small hill down to a saddle where I found an enchanted playground. Humans have built cairns and labyrinths into the landscape to form an interactive garden with nature spirits. Time stood still as I walked a labyrinth on the side of the hill and added a stone to a cairn. I chased lambs and just stood in awe of the subtle beauty of the green grass covering gentle hills rolling down to a pristine lake. I left fulfilled and joyful for my time in the land of the Faerie Glen.

Just a bit farther down the road on Skye is Dunvegan Castle, the 13th century home of the McLeod clan. Around 1500, a Fairy Tower was added to look over the inlet of Loch Dunvegan and the small islands with seal colonies. On the day I was there the sun was shining and the islands were fully illuminated with the warm, bright light. I kept looking out the windows of the castle to the seal islands and thought how lucky I was to be there at that particular moment, to be part of this history and see what the lairds saw for centuries. On the wall in the castle is The Fairy Flag, a mysterious flag of silk that was said to originally to be a gift from the fairies to guard the infant children of the castle. The fairy flag is said to lose its powers if unfurled more than three times, so far it has been used twice to enlist the fairy world to save the castle. I wandered the informal gardens that were in full bloom. The enchanted land has a waterfall and paths leading down to the loch where you can get a boat to go see the seals close up.

Looking out to the seal islands from Dunvegan Castle

After we left Dunvegan Castle we made one final fairy stop at the Fairy Bridge where often a phantom piper can be heard playing mournful tunes. I walked down the side of the bridge to the little stream the trickled through flower meadow and over small rocks. It didn’t take any imagination to see where fairies could hide along the soft bank. I didn’t cross the bridge because there is a chance you can enter the realm of the fairies and I was on my way to the Holy Isle of Iona and I had things to do—maybe next time.

Callanish

My latest adventure had been over a year in the planning and many years in my dreams. Finally the day came to leave for my Mysteries of Scotland tour. I visited Scotland with Hamilton in 2009 but it was a short visit and I had a few important places still to visit. So my friend Val set up a tour and we gathered some friends to join us on a mystical pilgrimage to the holy land of Scotland. There were three great mysteries we all wanted to experience: standing stones, nature spirits and Celtic Christianity. All three weave together in a unique way in this enchanted land far away on remote islands in the north Atlantic.

I want to start with ancient standing stones. The world is very familiar with the iconic and immortal Stonehenge and maybe even Avebury in England. But our ancestors left many more of these monuments to the cosmos. There were five stone circles on the itinerary for our pilgrimage so come along with me as we explore these magnificent sacred sites.

The first stone circle and the smallest on the journey was Croft Moraig. This 5000 year-old double circle is just by the side of a narrow road in a sheep field in Perthshire, an hour north of Edinburgh. We silently approached and each person took the time and space to experience the deep knowing of land and stone. We had the circle to ourselves and were able to really experience what was for many people their first time inside an open cathedral to the Universe. Although stone circles still have many great stories to tell, we do know they are places of ceremony for our ancestors, aligned to the sun and stars as observatories and serve as acupuncture points for the energy meridians of the Earth. Most of all, these mighty stones hold the memory of place and time and therefore become the timeless watchers of the land.

Our first stone circle fed our souls and after lunch we went to see the 5000 year-old Yew tree just up the road and another set of stones nearby. On our entire trip this was our only stop in the rain: otherwise the weather was perfection. But we all agreed that the rain was part of Scotland and felt nurtured by liquid sunshine that couldn’t dampen our joy.

The next day we met the third set of standing stones, very different from the first. Clava Cairns is just east of Inverness and very close the famous battlefield of Culloden. We drove right past this place of suffering and went to the peaceful stones and the ancient burial mounds. Clava Cairns is now more popular because of the Outlander series but, on the day I was there, it was cool and clear with a light breeze and just a few other people visiting. As usual I just quietly wandered around and entered the big burial cairns and touched the stones in the circle. The trees surrounding the site are beautiful and add to the gentleness of the place.

The following day we made the long drive to the most important of the stone circles in Scotland and a place I have long desired to visit— Callanish. You can’t get there from here. It takes some serious effort but I was determined and like all pilgrimages the journey and anticipation is just as important as the arrival. We drove to the little port town of Ullapool on the upper peninsula of the Highlands then took a 3 hour ferry ride across The Minch, the body of water separating the islands from the mainland. Fortunately, the water was calm that day and we finally arriving at the town of Stornaway on the island of Lewis which is northern-most island of the Outer Hebrides. The bus was the first to leave the ferry and we were off down narrow, one-way roads with just pull-outs for passing. The final 45 minutes of the trip is through increasingly barren and windswept land. Then there it was, Callanish. The stones rose over the horizon where they have stood for millennia. There was nothing to block the view, no trees or buildings, just the stones standing strong in such a harshly beautiful environment.

The bus pulled into the parking lot and we all made our way up the steep path to Callanish. There were a few other visitors there admiring the stones. I felt like I was at the ends of the earth and these stones were the last outpost. I took my time and skirted around the edge for I wanted to work my way slowly into the center. I walked to the furthest point which are two stones that began the ceremonial entrance to the main stone. I walked up the avenue that narrowed as I got closer. It felt like entering the great temples of Egypt by walking up the avenues lined with sphinx. The circle has four spokes coming from the center and I went to each one and looked out over the land to the nearby lake and then distant hills. What did the stones witness? What did they know? I eventually made my way in to the center and just enjoyed my moment at this beautiful place. Our guide Tracy pointed out the solstice alignment and I took pictures of my fellow pilgrims. Others started wandering back to the visitor’s center for a cup of tea and postcards but I moved off to the side and found a low stone to sit on. I just looked at this majestic monument and listened to some music and took in every part of the moment: the smell, sight, feel, sound. I bathed in the ancientness. It was finally time to leave but I had my moment in time in the timeless. I will be back.

The final stone circle on the tour was also the last stop before returning to Edinburgh to say our goodbyes. I had visited Kilmartin before in 2009 and never forgot it and was happy to be returning. I remember on the first visit when I touched the stones it felt like they were touching back. This visit held the same sensation and I felt very welcome to be back in their presence. It felt like the perfect closing, a benediction for my remarkable days in enchanted Scotland, where the mysteries are there to be touched and experienced without barriers, physical or spiritual. Just me and the stones together on the earth.

 

Tree shaped by the stone circle–Kilmartin

The Snow Leopard

photo by Bernard Landgraf

Last week Hamilton and I took my mom to see the movie Born in China. She loves nature shows on TV and it was a nice outing for all of us. So after dinner out we headed to the theater where we were the only three watching the movie. I’m so glad we saw it on the big screen because it was spectacularly beautiful with pandas, monkeys, cranes and my favorite, snow leopards. The narrator had charming and engaging story-lines about each animal mother and child. We watched rolly-polly baby pandas tumble down the mountain followed by young monkeys jumping around their forest home. In the introduction and ending are cranes flying across mountains, lakes and a giant setting sun. I really don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful movie. But what I wanted to see the most were the snow leopards, the rare and elusive big cat that lives in the high and uninhabitable Himalayas.

I first learned about snow leopards many years ago when I read a book in book club called The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The book was written in the 1970’s about Peter’s expedition into the deep Himalayas. His companion was in search of rutting sheep but Peter was in search of himself and a rare glimpse of the snow leopard. He had lost his young wife to cancer the year before and used this journey to look deeply at his life and grieve. The two hiked for weeks through high and difficult terrain with a rag-tag group of porters to reach the sheep. During the long days of hard walking Peter reflected on his personal and spiritual life. He never did see a snow leopard for at that time less than a handful of people had ever glimpsed this elusive cat.

The first time I read this book I understood absolutely nothing. Yep, I couldn’t comprehend anything Peter was talking about. I was young and I had no context for his experience. But interestingly enough I never forgot the book for somehow I sensed that it was important and so is the snow leopard. Over the years photographers captured a few distant images of the snow leopard in the wild but now this movie gives us a look at their elusive life.

I was inspired to read The Snow Leopard again after seeing this exquisite mama and babies try to survive in such a harshly beautiful environment. Hamilton had his copy high on a shelf so I got a ladder and pulled down the small paperback. The pages were old, discolored and rough. I started to read it for the first time in 25 years. This time I understood every word. Time had given me context for this beautiful pilgrimage into a harsh land and a grieving heart. Peter is a Buddhist and now all the words and stories about the Buddha made sense and after having a long walking pilgrimage myself I now understood his journey and deep need for a quest into the unknown. I had finally grown into the book.

At the same time I was revisiting another book I read over 20 years ago, The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham about mystical experiences. This is another book I didn’t understand on the first read but yet never forgot. These two books came into my life when the words were as elusive to me as the snow leopard. My life experience had no context for the story. But time changed that, for I persevered and built the vocabulary and experience to revisit these spiritual classics and now every word is like a tonic and a blessing. Like the new and amazing images of the snow leopard these books now can be part of my heart for I can see them now, when before they were so hidden with my lack of experience.

What books and movies do you need to revisit? What is waiting to for you to read with new eyes now that you have grown and learned? When time and experience combines with learning and wisdom we build new path ways to new mountain tops and are able to finally glimpse the snow leopard.

Persy on her snow leopard blanket.  It makes her feel exotic and mysterious.

Wabi Sabi

My Wabi Sabi laundry room.

A good friend once said to me “you are either traveling or at home, nothing in between”. She was so right for as much as I’m love to be on an adventure in my heart I’m really a homebody and like to keep a balance between the two. You won’t see fashion and gossip magazines in my house; it is all home magazines especially my favorite English Home which features charming country homes full of antiques, fraying upholstery, uneven slate floors, hunting dogs and wobbly Christmas trees. It is a far cry from the perfectionism of House Beautiful and Traditional Home. The truth is I like things a bit Wabi Sabi.

‘Wabi’ means simple/humble and ‘Sabi’ means “the bloom of time”. This is finding beauty in imperfection; slow, simple, natural and uncluttered which is the essence of this Zen way of living. This is the appreciation for everyday objects, used and loved, chipped and scratched, embracing imperfection as a beautiful way of life.

I wasn’t always like this. I had a deep streak of perfectionism but the beauty of children is they teach you a new way to live. Specifically, my creative Caroline taught me that a slightly messy house was part of the process of living and to get over myself and stop cleaning all the time. She is my little Zen master!

Four years ago I moved into a very Wabi Sabi home. The patina of age and grace infuses every room. My family has owned the home for over 60 years and, at the time they moved in the house was already past its hundredth birthday. Handmade brick, well-worn floors and slightly shabby upholstery make my home alive with history and the echo of family life. Over the last few years I have changed some things to make it my space and more liveable but the Wabi Sabi essence is still there.

It is all a work in progress. My project of the week was to remove the ancient carpet on the stairs to the basement—I couldn’t take it any longer. Underneath the carpet are oak treads, dirty and worn with a few old paint drippings. I swept them and then washed them twice with the Murphy’s oil soap which gives them the smell of clean wood. These old steps are so Wabi Sabi and I was happy to discover their true nature after being covered for so long. Because I don’t enter my home through the grand front door but through the garage carrying groceries up these hardworking stairs. I want my welcome home to be tidy, clean and practical.

As I have married my love of minimalism with the natural world of Wabi Sabi, I find that there is a greater ease and grace to life. Ok, I’m not giving up my nine sets of dishes (yes 9, thanks to my mother-in-law and yes, I have used them all)  anytime soon but everything has a place and a joy and a reason. There is no perfect place of arrival in the pilgrimage of life just the wonderfully perfect imperfection of each day.

I draw water  I carry wood  This is my magic-—-Zen poem

Some of my favorite books on Wabi Sabi

Living Wabi Sabi by Taro Gold

Simply Imperfect:  Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House  by Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Wabi Sabi Simple;  Create Beauty. Value imperfection. Live deeply

by Richard R Powell

Bird plates used for Easter dinner.

Bayon Temple, Cambodia

After our magnificent morning at Angkor Wat we had breakfast and a nice rest before heading out to the afternoon temples. I was glad to catch my breath from the morning because the afternoon was just as incredible. It would take a month to see everything here so I’m glad we decided to spend two days here. Next time I’m going to stay a week.

The first stop was Ta Prohm which is still mostly ruins unlike the temple of Angkor Wat which has been largely restored. There were still piles of carved stones everywhere and I would have felt like Indiana Jones finding an ancient secret temple if it hadn’t been for the crowds—but I can fantasize. I was definitely in an exotic world where dreams and reality collide. Now, in this massive tumble of stone are new gods— giant 400 year old trees overtaking the temple walls. Instead of a temple to Buddha it is a temple where nature and stone are the Divine. The dappled sunlight and green lichen made it all feel ancient and wise.

 

On to Bayon Temple just down the road where there was no doubt who was in charge of the Universe. For on every side of every tower are a total of 216 giant faces of the all-knowing Brahma. I was reminded at every turn of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity. I just loved it! We wandered around the stone temple where heaven and earth are blending together and God is made visible. Like the Sistine Chapel where God touches Adam, at Bayon temple Brahma is amongst us intertwining with our every moment.

In the center is the shrine to Buddha in a deep dark alcove. I took off my sandals and stepped on the smooth, cool stones worn and polished by the devotees. Just inside the dark was a tiny old woman with incense and flowers. I made my donation and stepped deeper into the holiest part of the temple. It was overwhelming to be kneeling with my insignificant offering and without the traditional words so all my mind and heart could find was gratitude.

The next morning we headed out to see more temples. Hamilton had accidentally washed his pass and there was just the vital information still visible. It did provide all the ticket checkers a good laugh. I pride myself in being able to remember temple names but I didn’t do such a good job this day. So I will have to just give descriptions. First was a pink sandstone temple with delicate and elaborate carvings of the Hindu gods. The second temple had a long bridge where one side had a dozen or so gods on one side and demons on the other. The entire temple was built around the duality of light and dark, gods and demons. There was beautiful two story library which had books made of palm leaves, now lost to time. Another temple has eight big elephants, one at each corner of the two levels. There was a hospital temple and a temple for water blessing and we finished with a temple used as a crematorium. None of these temples have active shrines and are much smaller and therefore fell like beautiful archeological sites rather than holy ground.

Somewhere in the middle of the day we stopped for a bit of lunch in a local open-air restaurant and I got a bit of shopping done. It is hot in Cambodia, think Tennessee in August, and we walked and climbed a lot so I was happy with an afternoon swim and Hamilton caught up on the latest issue of the Wall Street Journal. Our time in Cambodia was all we had hoped for and more. I was so sorry to leave the next day but I will be back for more adventures.

I’m so happy to have this visa in my passport.

A bit about Cambodia: Cambodia is the poorest country I have visited and is still far from recovered from the atrocities of the 1970’s where 1/3 of the population was murdered. I found the people to be courageous and resilient in trying to make a life for their families with so few resources. Their plight really reminded me how privileged we are in the West. Cambodia might not be at the top of most peoples’ vacation destination list but it is one of the most life-changing places I have ever been.

A couple of weeks after I got home I was watching a wonderful series on Netflix called The Kindness Diaries. Leon rides a motorcycle around the world with no money, only relying on the kindness of strangers. In episode 10 and 11 he is in Thailand and Cambodia and really highlights the plight of these counties. I highly recommend this show and Leon’s beautiful experience.

The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen Asma. I read this book on the trip and it is a well done commentary on life in Thailand and Cambodia and Theravada Buddhism. Dr. Asma is a very insightful and entertaining writer.