Going up the mountain to find the moon

The rough patch I hit in July got worse recently, emotionally speaking, which is basically why I haven’t felt like blogging lately. It’s been a challenging period trying to sort out things, and poor Josh has seen me go from bad to worse! Not that I was completely miserable or anything like that — I was still having a good time, but I was experiencing a huge amount of underlying stress triggered by various dramas. At any rate, I guess being at a major crossroad in one’s life feels much like what I’ve been feeling — as though it’s make or break.

But the good news is I think I’ve finally pulled through, given how well I managed to sleep last night for the first time in ages! You know, it was so bad recently I even resorted to taking mild tranquilizers for the first time in my life, only to find that they don’t work on me at all. Anyway, this period of stress and insomnia led me to making some hugely important decisions about my future as well as formulating concrete plans. All of which I have been working up to for a while and now I feel more at peace. Not to be a tease but I won’t say anymore at this stage because I’m still trying to lock things in; let’s just say that it feels good to be taking charge again, and not being afraid to take a few leaps into the unknown. 2010 was supposed to be the year I live courageously after all, which is what I said in the big speech I gave in January at the City Recital Hall for Hope 2010. So here’s my chance to follow through. When you all find out what I’ll be doing over the coming year I think you will be impressed.

Anyway, today I thought I’d actually write about something that happened back in May. I meant to write about it at the time but didn’t get around to it with everything else going on then and since. But somehow it now seems totally appropriate to recall it, especially as it can be read as a bit of an analogy for my life since mid-July.

On 28 May this year was Vesakha, or Buddha’s Birthday, which is also a public holiday here in Thailand. In Chiang Mai, many of the town’s residents mark the occasion by embarking on the long walk from in front of Chiang Mai University all the way up Suthep Road; the road goes all the way up Suthep mountain (Doi Suthep) where you can find the city’s holiest temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Thinking that this walk is one of those things that I would like to do at least once in my life, and that I would be much more likely to do it the first year I’m here than the next, I roped a less-than-keen Josh who had just arrived in Chiang Mai about five days before and also invited all the Aussies I knew to join us. So I rounded up a small group to undertake what I thought was a 9km walk — as it turns out it was closer 16km going up the mountain. Which just goes to show that sometimes it is better to be ignorant because otherwise you’ll do things that you would never do otherwise, right? Over-thinking things too much can definitely lead to inaction…which reminds me, I must blog about my recent whitewater rafting experience and put up some pictures — I am still amazed I didn’t die on that trip. Seriously, it was a scary day.

But to get back to what it was like on the night before actual Vesakha…in short, it was a great experience. I would happily do it again next year. I lost all my photos in the recent burglary otherwise I could have posted up some great photos from the night of thousands of monks in bright orange robes, people carrying colourful floats and banners, loud groups of university students wearing matching t-shirts, women in traditional lanna dresses holding lanterns, school students wearing their school uniforms, street stalls all the way up selling all kinds of food, people giving away food and drink as an offering to pilgrims — the free Thai-style ice-cream was a huge hit with all of us at one point in the night.  It felt like the whole town was participating — old, young, women, men, boys, girls, and most without appropriate footwear I might add! — and it was just wonderful to be part of the experience. I love being involved in big events like this. Going with a group of people to chat to also made the time pass relatively quickly, and it was only close to the top of the mountain that I started to feel my legs go numb from the constant exertion. One thing that made it easier is that the air became much cooler the further we away we got from the town — a blessed relief at that time of year, which was stinking hot at the time. All in all, it took us about 3.5 hours to get to the temple. (It almost took us about the same amount of time going down because we caught a sorngthaew and the traffic down was horrendous!)

It was a total circus at the top, with people and cars and stalls in the area at the foot of the temple — and this was just the start of it all, because people go all night for this event, and wait until dawn for “the ceremonial, and honorable, hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples).” (I quote Wikipedia seeing as I was back home and sound asleep by the time this happened.) What we did observe though from a vantage point we discovered inside the main temple were hundreds of people walking around the golden stupor holding incense bundles and lotus flowers while the monks chanted. I also saw, in a room to the side, people laying down incense and flowers at the foot of the golden Buddha statue. I didn’t really know what was going on, but it was interesting to watch.

Full moon rising
Full moon rising over Wat Prathat Doi Suthep on Vesakha

But what I really loved about the night was walking about the actual temple, which I visited during the day once in 2007, and seeing so many people gathered together; it was the ambience that I enjoyed most. Not to mention a glorious full moon to behold, which is the sole photo I took that actually survived the burglary. Seeing the full moon over the temple like that made it easy for me to believe that the ever constant moon really does have a special power over us changeable mortals. I also remember the cool breeze blowing over my slightly swollen body, and seeing the entire city of Chiang Mai lit up far below us, it became a place that felt somehow distant. Where we were felt very otherworldly and I guess that that’s the main reason why the temple was built up there. Although I don’t particularly believe in the tenements of Buddhism, somehow I did feel more holy having undergone a relatively arduous walk that night, and going up the mountain to find the moon, so to speak. I suppose this is why many people who seek enlightenment need to let go of their bodies and its aches and pains, and along with it all their worldly worries, and get in touch with the essence, whatever they believe that to be.

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