I arrived in Siem Reap just over two weeks ago now. It’s crazy to think it’s only been two weeks. These have been two of the most influential weeks of my entire life. Arriving here I was completely overwhelmed. I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours and this being my first time in Cambodia, or for that fact Asia at all I had no idea what to expect. Stepping off of the plane I was greeted by an intimidating and accusing visa/customs system and 33 degree celsius sunshine. After finishing dealing with getting a visa through the suspicion of not having a photo to provide (pro tip-bring a photo for a visa to Cambodia!!) I stepped outside to a sea of faces-unsure whether or not I was being picked up or what was really up or down at that point. Then seeing a sign with my name on it I left the airport with a serious language barrier , simply using the language of smiles. Jumping into the tuktuk (for those of you that don’t know what that is-it’s a carriage attached to the back of a scooter/motorcycle) we headed into the city.
Siem Reap is an interesting place. Initially it is totally overwhelming, loud, dirty etc. but in seemingly no time at all it grows on you. Arriving at Blue Indigo was very relieving as I walked in, and amid this crazy loud city you have this oasis of plants, quiet and bliss. As if that wasn’t beautiful enough I was greeted with nothing but positivity and kindness. Blue Indigo is a very beautiful yoga retreat in the heart of the city. Think: kittens, hammocks, plants and some of the most delicious and nourishing food i’ve ever had- and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. Yoga classes started that day, just three hours after I arrived. I quickly met Heather and Lori. Heather being 28 and from England has traveled everywhere. She has such amazing stories that kind of gradually come out of her-which is amazing because she’s constantly surprising you with her wealth of knowledge and experience. Lori certainly lived up to the bar that Heather set. Lori was also from Canada (woo-strength in numbers!) but we are quite different as there’s a small age difference of 35 years. Lori is a pillar of strength and grace. She has been touched by a neuro disease that left her very ill to the point of disability for years before she discovered yoga. Yoga seriously healed her, from the inside out-and just speaking with her and watching how she moves you would never know that she had been through and continues to stand against this health ordeal every day.
The next person to meet was Krishna, my teacher. Krishna is from India and grew up learning yoga according to the ancient scriptures. His method of teaching is orthodox but very valuable. He’s teaching us not only the physical side of yoga but really emphasizes the spiritual and mental sides of yoga. I did not believe in these sides until meeting Krishna. Within the first day, we performed a meditation in which we could start vibrations in very isolated different parts of our body if we could get our thought and focus to one. With much effort this actually happened on my first day. I felt a very dull vibration in my finger tips which did, and will always have a profound affect on my perspective. Now two weeks in, after probably between 1 and 2 hours of meditation a day I can feel these vibrations from the tips of my fingers and toes throughout my body, even around my brain-heart-eyes etc. I know it sounds crazy-as it did to me before.-but it’s a very real experience that doesn’t take a super human to perform. The experience in itself is amazing but it’s benefits are greater-I can literally diminish pain in my body using this tool-and I think it’s something that everyone should look into at some point in their lives.
Next I met Irina and Cindy. Irina is a genius. She’s a PHD and is a professor in Cambodia. She’s studied a variety of sciences including biochemistry and environmental engineering. She is such an intelligent, fierce and strong willed lady-unapologetically herself-never ever afraid to speak her mind. Cindy is a force to be reckoned with as well. She is from Eastern Germany (before the wall came down) and moved to Australia some time ago. She started her own organization in the past few years – Hands across the world which works to eradicate human trafficking through preventative support (i.e. education, women empowerment, etc.). At this point I’m thinking WOW, how blessed am I to be in the company of such INCREDIBLE WOMEN! I was really thinking I was the black sheep of the group. That I hadn’t accomplished anything and was feeling a bit insecure…but this perspective quickly changed.
One week in and we went to a pagoda out in West Baray – where we were blessed by a buddhist monk and able to do yoga on the banks of a river where we were so fortunate to witness water buffalo crossing the river. The next day me and Heather ventured out to Angkor Wat and Bayon on our day off. Angkor Wat is amazing. Really, it’s everything it’s hyped up to be and more. It is an incredible place that everyone should see in their life-but Bayon for me was much more incredible. Bayon is the kind of place where you walk in and you feel a shift in the energy. You feel introspective, kind and compassionate. All around you are beautiful carvings in this incredible structure that looks like a dream has come to life. What really made Bayon so special for me is that it’s where I had my first religious experience-ever. I was baptized as a kid, and went to a catholic high school… and have been closely encountered with religion in the past but have never felt anything deep or visceral from a religion. There though, in Bayon, in a dark room with nothing but candles-a statue of Buddha and burning incense it happened. I felt I should pray, and so I did. In response to the prayer, almost immediately after I had finished I felt love and happiness surge through my body. Call it a biochemical coincidence if you will-but for me that was an incredible moment that brought me to tears and I will never forget.
The following week was filled with conversations with everyone at the retreat about happiness, life, spirituality, yoga, work, money… everything you can think about. Throughout these conversations with the incredible people I am so fortunate to be acquainted with I’ve found I’ve been able to go deeper inside in discovering who I am and what I will do with my life. Along with this I’ve been given this incredible set of tools I didn’t know I had to handle stress and emotions like I’ve never been able to before. Or this is what I thought-until I was really tested. A group of us went out for dinner and on our way to dinner were approached. This young boy was bone thin, and dirty, and quite obviously mentally disempowered. He was walking around the night market trying to hug people and people were yelling at him and pushing him away. When he came to try and hug me, I did not because of my ego-but was instantly overwhelmed with guilt. This poor child was walking around barefoot in the streets, starving, but such a beautiful being he was trying to hug people and I did not hug him because he was dirty? I was so angry at myself. The thought kept flashing back in my mind and I relived his suffering and how I responded to it. Later in the night after dinner on the way home we saw a dog on the side of the road. This dog had a big bite out of his leg and looked so incredibly sad. It seemed no one else on the street saw him other than us. Anger, again surged through my body as we did nothing because there was nothing we could do.
I was tormented with these thoughts of the unbearable suffering that the world experiences for days. Disgusted by the excess I have in my life and angry at myself and the world. Before I came to the realization that me suffering only adds more suffering to the world. Just as the expression ‘ You can’t fight fire with fire ‘ goes, it is true we cannot cure the suffering in the world with more suffering. With this realization I felt it not only my right, but my responsibility to spread positivity and joy. With this new mantra in my head I went out into the city the next day to do some errands-bringing my smile with me everywhere I went. Sometimes my smile was greeted with a frown, and sometimes not greeted at all. But there were times where the smile was exchanged for a smile back, and to know I had spread even one smile felt it was enough. Later that night in the night market with some friends I was getting fried ice cream rolls (worth the belly ache) when I came across two young boys asking everyone to buy them food. Here they were surrounded by tourists and people with lots of money and they were being ignored as if they weren’t even humans. These boys were no older than 8 years old, had no shoes and were covered in dirt. Although buying them food is not a permanent solution, it is the end of their present suffering over hunger and sometimes to end present suffering is enough. So I bought them dinner, leaving them with smiles and full bellies.
Consequently, we cannot cure all of the suffering in the world at once. We must be patient and take life one day at a time. Keeping in mind that the sky is the limit for what we can accomplish in this lifetime if we do everything with heart.
All in all it’s been an incredible two weeks.
Siem Reap is amazing, Cambodia is amazing. Yoga is amazing. Life is amazing.