I am in Luang Prabang, Laos – a very charming town spruced up by the French in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It’s perched on a slight rise at the confluence of two rivers – the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan. Truly a gorgeous setting.
In the compact town centre there are 30 buddhist temples or wats, home to over 1,000 novices and monks. Every morning at 5am a procession of orange robed monks make their way about town collecting alms. The locals regard this as an important ritual.
I joined in this sacrament by parking myself on a little stool and giving out sticky rice and then some cash to the monks as waves of reverential orange drifted passed. They came in groups and I suspected that each group was from a different wat.
After half an hour or so the monks were thinning out and further up the street I spotted a lady I had met the previous day. As I had run out of sticky rice and cash, I walked over and greeted her. Her name is Kinfah and she was brought up in Luang Prabang. She left at 18 years of age to go to the US for study and remained there for more than 30 years until returning 3 years ago to take up residence in her old home where she was born.
She loves the town and it’s pace of life. Kinfah explained to me that she rises every morning at 4.30 and cooks for the monks who reside in the temple located over the road at the back of her house. She said that the giving of alms is an important start to her day. It represents the awakening of the soul. Then in the evening many go to the temple to chant where they receive energy created in the temple.
(In the evening on my way to a bar in town I stop at that same temple and listen to the men and women chanting. I don’t go into the temple itself as I am not sure if I am allowed but I stand outside and say a little prayer of thanks to the beautiful people of Luang Prabang before I head off for my beer. I think tomorrow I will join them – I am sure they won’t mind).
Kinfah said that the chanting or the meditation that she does at the end of the day “closes down her soul”. It’s a time for reflection and a completion of the day. She said that in America she lost that ritual and only now appreciates it’s significance.
Closing and opening of one’s soul is probably not the term I would use but the notion of opening our energy to the world and then at the end of the day having a ritual to fold the energy back inside oneself makes sense. Such a rhythm aligns us to our nature self. Like the opening and closing of the lotus flower. The breath in, the breath out. The giving in the morning, the receiving in the evening.
The dopamine during the day, the serotonin at night.
It’s true that societies all over the world have lost the yin yang rhythm. The overstimulation wrenches us all over the place.
The misalignment of drugs and foods such as coffee late in the day and eating too much in the evening. The lighting of our cities and homes trapping our body/mind in an expressive vigilant state.
Need I go on? The list is a long one. I think daily and nightly rhythms are in our DNA but the pace of the world has changed so much that these natural rhythms are getting agitated about. Frankly it’s a challenge not to go bonkers with it all.
But as travelers on the path and with all the things we have learnt over the years, we know that by focusing on the spiritual simplicity of life we can pull back and re-align if things get out of kilter. We can tap back into our rhythms.
My ritual at the end of my day is to read – a book. A real book. No screens. It completes the evening and is my little meditation time. I need to work on my morning ritual as that seems to be where I have lost my way of late.
How is your closing and opening going these days?