For the past three years I have been living in Thailand for 3-6 months out of the year. I fell in love with the country on my first visit and found it offered me a lifestyle similar to what I already had in the Caribbean yet with a completely different culture. Thai culture is quiet, relaxed and non-violent. I usually base myself in Chiang Mai and go around exploring different towns, villages, mountains with friends. I’m a very slow traveler and don’t really jump too quick to check out the tourist attractions. Something has to call me to visit someplace.
I fell in love with the idea of visiting and hiking up to this temple “ Wat Chalermprakiat ” The fact that it was a pretty new temple actually interested me even more so I booked a ticket on the train and a room for a couple of days and set off. This however was one of those times when nothing went according to plan. I left my passport at the copy shop where I last had get a copy for my last visa. So once I reached the train station I had to turn right back around to hunt down my passport. This involved about 30 minutes of arguing with scamming tuk-tuk drivers until the point that I just broke down crying on the street while calling my Thai friend frantically. Once I had some street cred someone finally agreed to take me back at a reasonable price. Girls crying pretty much works anywhere in the world I have discovered.
When I finally got myself together to get to the train station the 23 bhat ticket I planned to buy was sold out and the “VIP Air-Con” section was all that was left at 700 bhat. Once again my face went pitiful out of frustration and the ticket officer helped to find me a cheaper ticket. The air-conditioner was literally freezing me to the point that I went into my bag and just layered on my clothes for the whole weekend. Three shirts and two scarves later I arrived in Lampang. The views along the way were amazing and the town was adorable but I didn’t know I’d still have to hunt to find my hotel, with a dead phone and a reservation that was never received.
I finally got myself squared away and went to bed exhausted but grateful. I slept like a hillbilly with my curtain wide open because this island girl cannot handle all of that air-con but other than that my room was comfortable and the staff was very nice. The next day I woke up, looked out on my balcony and saw the rain clouds forming in the hills. Welp! There went my hike up to this glorious mountain. I refused to be frustrated though and decided to do some yoga and chanting and set out on my way to explore the town anyway. I would end up where I was supposed to be. Spirit would guide me.
I set off in the scorching sun and found some lunch and several friendly faces along the way. I then found a beautiful pristine temple and I had the grounds all to myself. I sat reading quietly and doing yoga for a couple of hours feeling like I was in my own little piece of heaven. As I exited I noticed a gorgeous old temple that looked like perhaps it was abandoned. I wanted to go onto the grounds but wasn’t quite sure if it was open. Just as I decided I would tiptoe onto the property and look around anyway I was caught red-handed and froze. An old monk appeared from the porch smiling waving me up. He seemed happy and eager so I walked up to this gorgeous temple and immediately started to feel calm.
Now one thing you must understand is that after living in Thailand I don’t feel very much of anything when I see a monk. To the newly landed westerner they are some sort of mystical beings blessed by Buddha himself. To me they are just like a preacher or priest and I feel as apathetic as I would in the U.S. Some are good, some are bad, some are nice, some are assholes. They are simply people and evoke no holy or spiritual feeling within me. Although I do find the young monks are pretty darn adorable just because I do adore children. This monk was very different than any monk I had met before though. There was a gentleness and kindness that radiated from him. He motioned for me enter the temple, so I climbed the stairs and took off my shoes.
The details inside of this old temple were amazing. Hand carvings and mosaics lined the ceilings and decorated moldings. The monk handed me a paper detailing the history of the temple called Wat Chai Mong Kol. The monk proudly pointed out his name on the paper which was Phra Athikarn Somchak Kittitaro. I half-listened, while walking around in awe trying to photograph the space in my excitement but careful not to photograph too much of the back room which I could tell he was embarrassed about. The second room was wooden and bare except for the dust covering the floor and walls and God knows what else. It was clear that this temple needed some work, but his pride didn’t waver. He asked me a few questions here and there about myself but did not pry. He mostly smiled and beamed as I took interest in his temple.
This particular morning, I had gotten up determined to work on my root chakra. I did some asanas to help me get grounded, clapped and stomped away the negative energy around me and asked spirit to guide me to where I needed to be. When I found this monk, I felt like he had a message for me. I wanted to ask but wasn’t sure how to go about such a thing. Then it just happened. I asked him how long the temple had been there. “119 years” he replied. I then asked him how long he had been there. “119 years” he said. I giggled and asked him how old he was “119 years” he said. I pointed at him and said “Wat 119? Chai” Which means “The temple is 119 years, yes?” He then grabbed a piece of paper and pointed to himself, and the temple and wrote 119 years.
My guru asked me if I thought he was human. Of that I’m not sure. He looks like a regular old guy and the thought of him being anything other than human is beyond my comprehension. What I did understand from his statement is that his life’s path was aligned in his oath and he was dedicated to his faith and his journey. Whatever came before that does not matter or exist. He and this temple were one, and as long as one existed the other would exist. It was a reiteration of my guru’s teachings of align yourself on your path and everything else will fall into place. I gathered my things and asked the monk if I could give him a donation. He nonchalantly replied “Sure” and I handed him 100 bhat ($3.25 USD) and thanked him repeatedly. He seemed surprised by the gesture, which in Thai culture was extreme, but not excited at all about the money and said simply, “You are a very kind person.”
As I exited the temple the hot Thai sun came down on my head with full force. The monk ran behind me with a bottle of water and smiled with his one tooth waving. He asked me to please come back and whenever I return to Lampang I will be more than happy to go to the “monk shop”, local stores that sell gift that look like Easter baskets of toiletries and goodies to give him. As I climbed down the stairs I suddenly began to cry uncontrollably. I’ve cried a great deal in my life and this crying was the oddest thing I’ve ever experienced. It felt as if my body was sobbing by itself, because on the inside, I was not sad at all. Tears poured out of me for a few minutes and as I walked to the altar in the back to say a prayer I felt a pressure, a weight, lifted out of my chest that has yet to return. Something that I had been carrying around for a long time escaped me that day. A heaviness in my chest I could feel fly out of me.
Life is an amazing journey and this experience is one that I will remember forever. We never know who we may meet on our path or what wise words or good energy they may bring us. Just trust in your spirit guides and have faith that if you do the work, they will be there to greet you.