Anchored…or what?! – How an Accidental Selfie Altered My Entire Perspective.

 

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor”. – Thich Nnat Hanh

 

Today something really weird happened. I’ll try to keep my explanation of it brief.

I was in a yoga class. (hello, Yogahub Dublin– !) and the teacher mentioned anchoring down against negative thoughts and allowing them to pass us by…a fairly standard mantra to base an extremely enjoyable class around.

 With me so far? Alright.

It just so happened that I’d recently discovered this picture on my phone, taken by accident of a canopy of trees above my head as I stood at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I’d set it as my  screensaver on the train on the way into class. Inevitably I found myself thinking about it as we exhaled and rooted down.

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I now think it might be the most significant picture I’ve ever taken.

 It shows the trees as individual organisms, yes. But it also shows their similarities; the cracks and passageways between them. It’s difficult to tell where one tree ends and another one begins.

It’s made me consider my entire brain composition differently.
It’s made me see the cracks in between what I now understand to be tectonic plates of thought; continents of beliefs, passions, negative and damaging habits and feelings which make up the circumference of my brain.

 It’s like this:

Once upon a time, the continents existed as one individual and solid mass of being, consciousness, and innocent, untouched thought;
that of a child.
Somewhere along the way, this ‘pangea’, if we’re to use the geographical term, encountered some unexpected upset, resulting in quite permanent and irreversible damage. Either that, or just the continuos expansion and erosion resulted in gradual minor movement which in turn caused a larger break, causing the continents to float in all directions, and fall apart into the random assortment of misshapen cookies and their crumbs as we recognise them today.

 Puberty, you say?? Or something more uncontrollable?

 Hear me out, here.

Only one thought, idea, or passion has managed to reign over each continent. One thought, or else a vague confusion of several, has been marooned alone on each of these continents to fester; each landmass offering promises of a new and unique culture, perspective, opinions, lifestyle, and possibilities.
These ideas have however been declined the opportunity or space to spread out and moderate their extremity evenly, remaining instead stuck and concentrated solely on their own intensity.
It’s as if each passion, ideology and notion has been designated its own population, culture, and religion – wild tribes inhabiting each unique and promising island, waiting impatiently to pounce on any passing explorers or trains of thought in the hope of improving their own inexplicable situation.

 Enter, my train of thought.
Or in this case; a ship.

 Which, after years of leaping straight onto the banks of each new ideology or passion encountered and becoming so enraptured with the entirety of the initial apparent potential and/or ‘brilliance’ of a given concept, has finally learned to anchor briefly offshore, before plunging ahead full-on and succumbing to the enticing newness of each place. All seems well, until realisation hits that this place has fully-consumed any sense of individual thought or ability to reach other thought patterns.

There are no bridges between these continents.

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When the ship is in motion; when the platform of departure and arrival is uncertain and unspecified, any port appearing safe and trustworthy is going to appeal to latch onto if an anchor is not in existence. Trustworthy, that is, until advantage is taken of the deprivation it has experienced whilst at sea, harbouring urgently and wolfing down deficit supplies with no escape; obsessed and utterly drawn into the centre of this new continent and the exciting yet dangerous discoveries it promises. All resistance is ceased, and assimilation begins.

 Maybe I’m going too deep here.

What I’m trying to get at is that in viewing my thoughts as these isolated places I’ve finally learned to navigate the cracks which exist between them; the extreme passions, and ideas – enough at least to allow me to anchor briefly offshore to take a peek and try it out. The picture of the trees resembling a globe was only the beginning of it. There’s not much hope of getting the continents to reconnect or to return them to how they once existed – but that too would be against the natural flow of the streams I now live relatively comfortably upon.
By anchoring my ship and thoughts just slightly offshore within the cracks between the continents, I am embracing the damage that has occurred instead of avoiding it. I am leaving the islands accessible, completely within my grasp to feel and experience, yet still rooted firmly with the knowledge that at the first sign of any negative, infatuous, or damaging behaviours, I will be able to find my way safely back to return to the flow leading onwards.

 That I can leave the negative behind and remain safe and in control of whether I return or not is empowering, and I enjoy balancing the flow of this current.
This current which naturally bears me along from one emotion, breath and experience to the next, embracing them as I see fit, and leaving them fondly behind as I move onwards.

It’s mad that I got all this from an accidental picture taken whilst my phone was on selfie-mode and the sun was too bright for me to see the screen.

But there you have it. Angkor Wat and yoga have literally anchored me.

 

Temples, Tombs, and Touristy Tipples – From Connemara to Cambodia

Whatever about budget accommodation and shared dorm-rooms, there’s nothing quite like being woken up to about 9 different phone alarms ringing from various corners and muffled covers of a 16-person hostel room, signalling a trip to see the sunrise behind the Angkor Wat temples. One after another, the Samsung and iPhone default alarm settings become the soundtrack to my morning in Siem Reap as I lay in wait for my own – because it surely can’t be 5am until my own device says so!?
It’s been happening all week, as our fellow travellers blindly seek their way to the bathroom in the semi-darkness to prepare for a long day of ‘being  tourists’, Siem Reap being possibly one of the earliest rising cities in the country purely for the fact that its main attraction is a daily naturally occurring phenomenon. Our turn comes on a day when I’ve already been awake for a short while; I’m an early riser anyway, and so the premature sunrise and subsequent sunset during the Winter in Asia actually came as a shock to me not so much because it always seems to be slightly earlier than you’d think, but because for once the entire population and world around me rises with me, instead of afterwards, and I don’t feel guilty or apprehensive for waking people up.

Ten minutes after I shamelessly pull the girls from a deep slumber by employing the age-old tactic of shaking them ’til they groggily tell me to stop, we’re swerving around a street corner in a rickety trailer attached to the back of an old an noisy motorbike, as our tuk-tuk driver silently traverses his morning commute down what appears to function as a one-way street before sunrise. We find ourselves unintentional participants in a rat-race of identical vehicles, all surging forwards akin to a playstation game where the goal is simply to get to the finish line first, in our bid to reach the entrance to the temples before the sun peeked it’s head above the eastern-most tower. I’ve never seen anything quite like the huge mix of families, backpackers, elderly couples, middle-aged wanderers and still-drunk party-goers who presumably haven’t slept yet but have impressively managed to find their way to the temples after pre-purchasing a ticket, all disembarking from the assortment of tuk-tuks and motorbikes that line the streets at the main entrance to Angkor. We join the throng of camera-clad sky-gazers shuffling along the pathway in the morning darkness as many drivers settle back into their vehicles with newspapers and smart phones, preparing to wait for their charges to take some pictures of a view they merely glance at as regularly as I see the Leapcard machine on Dublin Bus when I’m at home. This might not be a fair comparison, given that sunrise at Angkor Wat is ultimately slightly more picturesque than the interior of a Dublin Bus, but you get the idea.

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We all stood and looked at the sky for a bit

It’s an odd sensation as this particular days’ visitors to the temple gather in silent expectation around the little lake outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the reflection in the water as well as the black silhouettes of the 5 towers of Angkor Wat. I hold up my camera blindly and press the button several times. I do this every couple of minutes. I’d say everyone else does too. I watch the sky change from a burning orangey-red, to a slightly brighter pinkish hue, suddenly joined by flecks of yellow and an undercurrent of purple and blue. Around me, photographers of varying levels of seriousness watch it all through the lenses of cameras that probably cause more hassle than anything to carry around, my trusty Android providing me with pictures just as good (if not better!) than some of the pictures I’ve seen online.

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Angkor Thom

Once the sun has properly made herself visible through the cracks between the Eastern towers, an anti-climactic trawl back through the crowds leads us to follow one of the many pushy vendors along the pathway inside to have breakfast at their ‘restaurant’ – various pop-up eating houses ridiculously named with the intention of enticing hungry foreigners to sit there. We follow ‘Nelly’ to his café area, passing Lady Gaga, Spiderman, Ronaldo and Harry Potter on the way, and unfortunately having to tell Micheal Jackson that we’ve received a better offer.

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Hurrah! Sun’s here

After this, it’s time to start exploring properly, and together with some Canadian friends we bump into that we’d made in Mondulkiri, we source a guide outside to bring us around the Angkor Wat temples for a cheap enough rate each, given there’s now a group of us. It proves an interesting and well-executed tour, but the heat of the sun now properly risen means that I have to cover up pronto, the lack of clouds having proven beneficial during the actual sunrise itself now frankly uncomfortable on my white freckled skin.

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Lilies and Lotus flowers in the lake

I spot various monks around the temples, some clearly sightseeing, others presumably local and going about their daily practices. One agrees to bless us and tie a red woollen bracelet around our wrists, taking specific care not to even graze the skin with the tips of his fingers as he does so – monks aren’t allowed to touch women’s flesh, the consequence of which would result in their banishment from the monkhood! Talk about extreme measures…. We finish the Angkor tour, and after a quick refreshment, this time from Harry Potter, we negotiate a tuk-tuk ride onwards to the next temple, Ankgor Thom. This one is by far my favourite temple, the stone faces and maze-like tunnels reminding me of The Road to El Dorado and providing both a fun and cultural way to spend the afternoon, not to mention plenty of photo opportunities!

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I had to stop myself calling him ‘Avatar’

Good intentions and map-reading aside, we get well and truly lost in the final temple, Ta Prohm, or ‘the one from Tomb Raider’, as it’s more commonly known.

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Cringe, but a must – Tomb Raider pic in Ta Prohm

A combination of heat, fatigue, awful sense of direction and an array of nooks and crannies to explore meant that four or five times we backtrack on ourselves and have to extract directions to the exit fragment by fragment from a security guard with extremely broken English. It’s been a long day…..but it’s only 3pm! Naps are in order, and even the breeze of the tuk-tuk ride back to the Mad Monkey Siem Reap fails to wake us up properly.

**************

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‘beatnik speakeasy’ – my new favourite bar ever

We’d arrived in Siem Reap and spent the day exploring the city a day prior to undertaking Angkor Wat, and I have to say I liked it a million times more than Phnom Penh. Not only is it cleaner, less crowded, and more catered to visitors, but it’s actually fairly easy to navigate, and I’ve felt ultimately so much safer walking around here than I had in Phnom Penh. Everything is clearly labelled, from the ‘Night Market’, the ‘Day Market’, to the neon lights of ‘Pub Street’, meaning less time spent wandering around aimlessly searching for places even tuk-tuk drivers don’t know where to find. The “Beatnik Speakeasy” was an absolute gem of a find on Pub Street, my fascination with Jack Kerouac being clearly represented on the wall inside (the actual quote I’ve been using for this blog since I began it!) along with original beatnik-inspired cocktail concoctions, and we enjoyed a happy hour tipple or three here, for once completely surrounded by other Westerners and tourists alike, and actually feeling like we could relax a bit.

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I’ve really become more comfortable with every aspect of this travelling thing now, our experiences before having felt more like pre-organised group outings, rather than independent and self-fulfilling navigation and exploration. We are so much freer to do and go where we please now, our decision to purchase visas to Vietnam being heeded on a whim and promising an unexpected twist for the next leg of our unplanned adventure.

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Angkor Selfie (standard)

With a bus booked to Ho Chi Minh city the following morning, the few nights in Siem Reap were over far too quickly, and after an evening socialising in The Mad Monkey I hastily repacked my bag with the clean laundry (hurrrah!!!) I’d finally managed to get done behind the counter, and attempted to get some much sought-after sleep.

Next stop, Ho Chi Minh City……!