Lessons From Cambodia For Current Times.

 

 

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

 

Cambodia is a beautiful, photogenic country with much to offer. We can treat it like a two-day holiday and enjoy the spectacular sights. Or be overwhelmingly dismayed by its Killing Fields. 
Or, we can pay close attention to the whole and learn some invaluable lessons.  

Humans are capable of outstanding creativity as well as deplorable behavior. 
Conflict, terrorism, and political fallouts are not something far and distant, but immediate and impactful for all of us today. The growing levels of intolerance, separatism and violence are evident everywhere. Experts who understand NLP, group and individual psychology, economic unrest, strategic power plays, audio-visual influence and the craft of words and pictures are actively misusing their knowledge to influence the masses for their own vested interests.

While in the thick of things, one can miss the ripple effects of our actions and non-actions. Only time will reveal the full consequences of our denial or active/passive/participative response.

With this essay, I hope to invite the more conscious reader to consider engaging mindfully with what is happening around us, rather than stepping back. For if everyone turns away from the difficult and challenging, how are things going to get better?

In Cambodia, is an example of the far-reaching ramifications of history, alive and visible together, all in one frame: Provoking us to examine and understand how our individual choices unfold to a collective repercussion over time. 

Below is a brief, simplistic summary of the complex impressions I carried back. I share the highlights of what I consider as the three divergent filters through which we can view what we see today.

  1. Impassioned, unquestioned beliefs and their self-indulgent imposition on others can lead to unspeakable horrors.

It is estimated that one out of every four people in the country died during the relatively recent Khmer Rouge regime. 

“Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 740,000 and 3,000,000, most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.” ~ Wikipedia.

We aren’t talking about an ancient, primitive occurring here. This happened as recently as a few decades back. Educated people were deliberately targeted and urban folk were driven out of the cities and forced to work at the fields in dismal conditions. The unbelievable horrors inflicted deliberately and otherwise during this civil war, are described during the audio commentaries at Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields. Locals add that a hugely significant percentage of the Cambodian forest cover was also lost. Landmines were planted all over, animals were killed and infrastructure was destroyed. Subsequently, those who could simply read and write became teachers and the younger generation face the consequences of this difficult legacy.

Some say that when those who were a part of the Khmer Rouge were asked why did they do what they did (to their own fellowmen), they say they acted out of fear for their life, or because they were brainwashed.

While the torture and executions were being carried out, people in surrounding areas, and escorted foreign visitors often had no idea as to what was really going on. Much of the world did not realise what had occurred in Cambodia until much after. As impossible as it seems, facts can remain hidden from public scrutiny, and propaganda can leave us deaf. 


For those who believe attack, subjugation and violence are an answer to things, they may do well to pause and reconsider. Heroic movies and video games are one thing. The cost on the ground is another. Can you imagine living in an area where every single family has suffered in one way or the other? Where life, limb, livelihood, dignity and everything honourable has been lost? 
Without the human story, every telling is simplistically reduced to soulless, cold numbers.

The effects of the chilling 1975-1979 years are still reverberating through the population today. And humanity at large would do well to pay attention. For God knows, we have many similar situations (some nascent, some churning, and some full blown) occurring all over the world today.

2. Together, with our intelligence, skills, imagination, creativity and co-operative action, we can create amazing wonders.

The stunning engineering, architecture, and intricate craftsmanship from hundreds of years ago, inspires thousands of visitors even today. These awe-inspiring monuments indicate that the science, arts, and skills of those days were of an extraordinary level. It is almost as though the very boundaries of what we could produce were being stretched.

These megastructures provided employment and inspiration to those who came hundreds of years ago – and they continue to provide a livelihood to hundreds in the tourism and hospitality industry there today. Not only archaeologists and artisans but also NASA and other scientists take an interest in understanding the mysteries of these structures.

Equally impressive is the demeanor of the Khmers. Despite the continuing economic, political, emotional and physical challenges(let us not forget the many innocent victims of landmines and war) Cambodians are largely warm, smiling, helpful and resilient.

They are apparently also rather forgiving. While many of the surviving Khmer Rouge have left the country, I am told, many have integrated back into their villages.


All this raises the bar on what we as humans think ourselves capable of: whether that be physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually.

3. We need to recognise, respect and work with the powerful energies and presence of the land and forests, instead of exploiting them like lifeless resources.

 Those familiar with energy ley lines and energy vortexes consider sites here to be significant and powerful locations. A visit to these lands makes it easy to understand why animism predated Buddhism and Hinduism here. Every space has a geomagnetic force and that is something that not even the skeptics can overlook. (If you are interested in learning more about the electromagnetic force fields we generate, how they interact and the correlation with the earth’s force field and solar activity, do have a look at Heart Math Institute research.)

In Cambodia, especially in the jungles, the raw, intense vibe of the land and it’s forests is yet palpable. The fact that those ancient people knew enough about the stars to build the temples in a configuration that reflects the Draco constellation at equinox over here, gives us some food for thought. Perhaps, that civilization knew something we are yet figuring out? For they must have had some compelling reasons to go out into those thick, snake-infested jungles and carve out these temples in those places. 

Whether you are a sensitive who understands subtle energies, or someone who is open to the possibility that an ancient civilisation was more advanced than we are today, or an environmentalist who cringes at the destruction wrought by civil war and modern, short-sighted thinking, one is reminded here that any potential needs to be handled responsibly, with care and respect.

Technology (whether new or ancient) and energies(whether subtle or measurable) can be harnessed for good, or carelessly exploited.

Each of the above three ‘filters’ highlights a different aspect of today’s reality. In a 3-D world, the very same object will concurrently appear different from varying perspectives. And until we learn to listen, to co-exist, to interact with some modicum and mutual respect, we are doomed to fail to see the whole picture, let alone find a harmonious view point.

We inherit not only DNA, but trapped emotions, beliefs ,and even memories from our ancestors. Unhealed wounds do not fade away. World over, we have people still reeling from historical Partitions and Wars. Episodes of mindless mob contagion that leave scars for generations.

Do not for a minute underestimate your contribution to current times.

The unquestioned, passionate, verbal and physical outbursts that news and social media encourage, endorse and multiply – is adding up to the legacy we leave behind. 

A recurring theme at Angkor Thom is the ‘Churning of the Ocean’ motif. Every bridge across the moat has Devas(Gods) lined up on one side and the Asuras(demons) lined up on the other. The walker is thus encouraged to consciously choose the mindful middle path.

For myself, I believe change begins with me. So I continue to work at walking mindfully, staying in the present moment, without being carried away by any extreme, polarized views.

I have no simplistic solutions to offer. All I can do is share my thoughts and hope that they provoke some introspection in at least a handful of readers. 

Thank you for your time. 

(For a photo album showcasing lesser known sites and more details on Cambodia, please visit my FB album.)


(If taking responsibility for the world we co-create appeals to you, you may like to read: “Poems: Restoration of Peace”.)

 

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Ta Prohm. Cambodia

 

Poems: Restoration Of Peace

Sometimes,
Even the land and waters forget,
As do the trees.

Soak them in enough blood
Violate mercilessly,
Leaving no time to mend, to heal…

Do it long enough
And you can confuse them.
(Though even then,
Far less than us
Deranged they be.)

Nevertheless,
Not themselves for sure.
Ragged, disconnected, incomplete.

Buying into our sense of separation
Identifying with horrors they have seen
Branded and known forever
As numbing battlefields…

Like us,
These too require a gentle touch.
The kiss of remembrance
The restoration of sanity:

I am sorry, please forgive me.
May we all return
To the love and peace we be.

koh_kher_clearing

(Written at Koh Ker, Cambodia. If you are not familiar with Cambodia’s history, you may want to look it up. )

Footnote – An Extract From Wikipedia

“Hoʻoponopono (ho-oponopono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

[…]

“…includes using the mantra, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.[40] It is based on Len’s idea of 100% responsibility,[41] taking responsibility for everyone’s actions, not only for one’s own. If one would take complete responsibility for one’s life, then everything one sees, hears, tastes, touches, or in any way experiences would be one’s responsibility because it is in one’s life.[42] The problem would not be with our external reality, it would be with ourselves. Total Responsibility, according to Hew Len, advocates that everything exists as a projection from inside the human being.”

 

‘Life Amusement Theme Park’: Travel Information.

Welcome!

  1. Essential supplies– Include a sense of humor, tissues and eyeglass cleaners.
  2. Know that it is impossible to cover all of this vast and diverse terrain in a single trip.
  3. The landscape is changing all the time.  Your choices and actions also contribute to this change.
  4. Routinely consult a map to understand your current position and reorient yourself.
    (Updated, local area maps are available at all pit stops.)
  5. Whether long, short, direct, winding, easy, or difficult, all roads eventually lead home. 
  6. Expect to feel pain at times. Design excellence ensures that this discomfort feels real and true. It is an essential component of the acclaimed reward-punishment matrix. (But be assured that at the end of your journey, you will find you actually came through unscathed.)
  7. You may proceed at a pace of your choice.
  8. Different routes will appeal to different individuals. To each his own.
  9. You are free to experience as much as you can, or as little as you want.
    (Cautionary Note:  Some popular attractions can be captivating. High Drama, Romcom, Monopoly, History Repeats, Gurudom and Lost are addictive rides and may consume all your time and attention.)
  10. You are free to change direction and speed at any time. However, consequences of these changes are non-negotiable: costs and benefits are both to be borne in full.
  11. Co-travellers are free to part ways, as also to regroup.
  12. Mirrors are present everywhere for your convenience. Simply pause if you wish to reflect.
  13. Speed breakers are in place to remind you to slow down, enjoy the scenery and smell the flowers.
  14. When the nights are darkest, the light shines the brightest.  Look to the skies for highlighted signs.
  15. Travel logs are optional. Your observations and reviews may be curated for those seeking travel assistance.
  16. Innumerable treasures have been hidden in obvious sight. Be attentive or you will miss these.
  17. Frequently, you will encounter forks in the road. Rely on your subjective inner navigation programs at such times. (Integrating these with your personal value system is helpful in ensuring optimal functioning.)
  18. Befriend your shadow. It never leaves your side, hints at your true immenseness and points back towards the light Source.
  19. Dive into your experience fully and whole-heartedly.  This mind-body will pass through just this once.
  20. Help-lines are open at all times.  Ask and you shall receive. (The messenger may be different from what you expect, but the answer arrives.)
  21. This beautiful place is nothing if not unpredictable.
    Hence, some or none of the above may apply.

Enjoy the rides, surf the waves and leave the world a better place!

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Outer Travel And Inner Journeys

 

Musical_Pillars_at_Vittala_Complex-bicubicMusical Pillars at Vitthala Complex, Hampi, India.

In this last year, I have been fortunate to have visited several UNESCO World Heritage sites and other energetically powerful places. These trips are an integral part of my work as an earth sensitive (see Are You An Earth Sensitive And Why You Need to Know).  However, apart from the energy work involved, these journeys also enable rest and introspection.

Natural surroundings provide us with a deeply healing respite from the storms of life. Also, as we reconnect with our Self and our environment, the significance and meaning that we attach to our individual challenges undergo a sea-change.

Similarly, historical and heritage sites can also have an interesting effect on our perspectives. Each UNESCO and ASI site I have visited so far has been unique and most clearly deserving of our appreciation and preservation. The symbolism and what the makers attempted to convey highlight diverse human obsessions, from the personal ego of a ruler wanting to leave his mark, to the universal questions around the meaning of life. They indicate what was valued in the collective and was the prevalent culture at that point in time.

What is most striking is that they all remind us that great art and architecture demand immense dedication, skill, thought, unsung effort, co-operation and often, much time. The fruit of such undertakings impacts generations to come. Such projects are living testaments to the fact that man seeks to understand his role in the world; that for generations, people have attempted to do something meaningful with the time and breath gifted to them.

Whether or not we agree with the values(such as personal glorification, or idol worship) embodied here, these impressive, physical forms can easily prod us to to examine our own valuesto reassess our individual place in a far broader context, and to reprioritise our relationships with the divine, the planet, and all living beings.

How and why does travel to such sites deepen our self-inquiry?

Well, for one thing, what such structures highlight is that in other times, and in places yet untouched by the global standardisation of modern, urban life – the meaning and use of time, space and other resources can be remarkably different from what we are accustomed to.

Immediate gratification, quick results, individual credit, fame and rich returns(at least for the artisans), all these do not seem to have been prioritised as greatly as they commonly are today. In many cases, one would not even live long enough to have the satisfaction of completion and closure. (Gaudi’s ‘La Sagrada Familia’ at Barcelona is a more recent project that illustrates this. Under construction for over 132 years, it yet has a long way to go.) The focus seems to be more on continual dedication and excellence, rather than on reaping the fruits of labour.

Similarly, as objective viewers of a distant past, the disrespect, violence and destruction that we can cause in the name of our beliefs and allegiances also become clear. Seeing the consequences of the dramatic destruction of a rich city like Hampi (or the careless damage brought about thanks to the abuse/neglect by the victors at sites around the world) force us to face our own inner demons. These locations showcase the atrocities that we as humans may commit when we perceive a threat to our way of being.

As individuals, we are all capable of demonstrating similar levels of creativity and destruction. It is our awareness that determines which potential we draw forth. These places and their historical narrative naturally provoke questions such as:

  • Why are we doing what we are doing?
  • What are we doing with the time and talents given to us?
  • What would we rather be doing instead?
  • How well are we using our resources?
  • How are we impacting the world?
  • Are we leaving it a better place?
  • What do we need to stop doing?
  • What do we need to start doing now?
  • Are we in sync with our natural surroundings, our community, the cycles of life?

I could go on, but then, I am an introspective writer after all.

These days, popular travel tends to be ambitious, micromanaged and super-packed. The emphasis is frequently on quantity rather than quality, with the focus being on visiting the largest number of famous landmarks. Local flavour, ways of being and philosophies are often missed by us choosing to remain with our habits of food, language and people, even in foreign locales.

Such constraints on time, venues and local interaction cost us dearly: For too often, we return having done little more than having ‘checked-in’ at the different locations.

It is no ‘Secret’ that a conscious intent significantly influences what we notice and experience.

My invitation to you is to set out with the resolution to travel with awareness. That instead of being swept off-centre by the sensory overload, to decide to use the sights and impressions to draw out newer aspects of yourself. To open yourself to not just new sights, but new energies and experiences. To deliberately include free time in your schedule, so that when you feel called to linger in a place, you have the bandwidth to do so.

Allow yourself the luxury of contemplation, surfacing thoughts and emotions that you have been repressing or denying. Welcome the opportunities to sit in leisurely silence at sacred places, processing and evolving effortlessly. Let the meaningful questions take precedence for a change.

In my experience, such conscious travel leaves us with a far richer experience than otherwise.

External wanderings can help us discover and express newer parts of our self. I know I return changed by every trip. Perhaps this post will gently remind you to explore newer dimensions in your own travels as well.

Wishing you de-lightful and meaningful journeys!

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Stained Glass Windows at La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain.

Don’t Let The Language Barrier Keep You Home.

UFO Bridge, Bratislava

I was seated at an old wooden table, in one of the proverbial, European open, road-side cafes. The evening was now dark, chilly and breezy, with persistent, musical sounding rain. Equipped with only a light jacket, I was happy for this warm, sheltered space. My apartment was at least a thirty-minute walk across the windy Novy Most bridge, in the newer part of town.

With the rich, red Slovakian wine and the homely pasta plate before me, I had no complaints.  The smiling waitress had been kind enough to bring an English menu and a napkin that said, “Ladies, Rio loves you.” Back home, this old town restaurant’s slogan would have seemed discomfiting. Here, it felt like a thoughtful welcome for the solo woman traveler.

The fact that I didn’t know a single soul in this city, or for that matter, for hundreds of miles in all directions – was not disturbing, but strangely comforting. I wondered at the oddness of that thought.  I considered if spending the morning with a Segway tour guide meant he could be counted as an exception. Or if the non-English-speaking landlady who handed the keys to my apartment stay counted as an acquaintance.  I decided not. 

She had, after all, failed to introduce me to the resident poltergeists.  Only after they tripped my electric range and kitchen lights a couple of times in succession, did I figure out how to negotiate a peace treaty with them.  (They finally agreed to limit themselves to the small drying balcony while I stayed there.)  So no, the landlady didn’t count.  Her daughter, who had earlier pretended to be her mother, and corresponded with me before, and during the stay, over email and phone – now perhaps she could be counted as an acquaintance. But soon after I arrived at the local station, did I realise that she was in fact away, studying in the States. 

So it was true. Here I was, late on a stormy evening, alone in a city who’s souvenir t-shirt reads, “Where the F#$@ is Bratislava?”.  I could have laughed out loud.  But I restrained myself to a content smile. 

The stranger who happened to walk in at that point thought I was smiling at him and nodded back with a smile.  He sat across me, a couple of tables separating us. From the discussion over the menu, it became clear that he knew neither the local languages nor English. Through gestures, he managed to have food and wine come to his table. Other groups came in and went while we shared our solitary meals in quiet acknowledgment of our similar situations.

It seemed to be the flavour of the day.  Companionship with strangers who don’t speak your language. 

Most of the afternoon had been spent with an international group of mathematicians.  Their English speaking host had decided to take me into their fold, soon after we met on a cruise down the Danube river. Impressed with the fact that I was traveling alone, he wanted to know how I was managing despite the language barrier. Himself a local, who had returned after a stint in the States, he explained his interest in communication to me.  Given the complex history of the place, it seems between his wife and their parents, they shared a lineage of five different languages.  He said, “They say New York is a potpourri of different cultures, but they don’t know what’s been happening here in Bratislava, in every family!  I could relate to this, thinking of the myriad languages and cultures intermingling back in my hometown, Mumbai.

Devin Castle, Slovakia

We soon reached the geographically and politically significant site, Devin Castle.  It has witnessed many wars – something which is extremely difficult for the heart to comprehend. How do humans engage in such violence, and that too at a place so awe-inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful? No short answer there. As we had to return to Bratislava by the evening ferry, unfortunately, there would be no time to explore the extensive natural park around the castle grounds.

While there was some conversation with an Indonesian family on the boat, I explored the ruins largely on my own.  Without any formal agreement, one of the mathematicians accompanied me around. Besides a nod, we exchanged no other communication.  Distinguished, handsome and with sparkling, alert eyes, he seemed well respected amongst his peers.  He, and I, though had no scope for any verbal exchange and nor did we seem to feel the need for it.  Despite that, after several hours of comfortable silence and walk together, I left the ferry with the odd feeling that we had really met each other in a very meaningful manner. There was also an inexplicable sense of closure at the end of the day.  As though a long pending conversation and been completed.  Perhaps it was a karmic connection or a matter explained by modern day heart coherence findings. Whatever it was, the time together was memorable.

As I happily reminisced the satisfying day over my candle-lit wine and dinner, with the other solo diner similarly ruminating a few feet away, I thought this in itself was one wonderful, powerful benefit of solo travel:

To remember that it is possible to communicate with others without words. To find kinship with strangers and warm hospitality in unknown lands. To meet without an agenda, to befriend without reason and to part ways without regrets. 

How wonderful, these opportunities!

Back home, when I sometimes struggle to converse, either because of the superficiality of the content, or the seeming impossibility of finding the right words that will reach to another what we experience in our own individual bubble – I remember such days and feel reassured:

It’s okay to be quiet.
Silence can indeed be golden.
And completely adequate for bridging divides.

Poems: Notice The Underlying Presence

imageMarry the chaos with stillness.
The old with the new.
The known with the unknown.
The distraction around
and the emptiness within.

The spoken and the unspoken.
The tangible and the sensed.
What was hoped for, and has been lost,
What is waiting to be born again.

Include it all.
Integrate everything.
The days of separation are gone.
It is time to bridge the gap in between.

Let there be no more excuses,
No more defense, arguing, procrastinating.

We are but fragments of a whole piece,
Floating in doubt for too long.
Warring lets none of us win
But forces our habitual burdens
Onto the next innocent generation

The blood may have soaked into mud
But the earth still cries,
Its wounds are still raw.
It holds our memories,
The ones we insist on keeping alive

Forgive the ones who came before us
Forgive the ones who never came

We are the answer we have been waiting for
Wake up. Cease apathy now,
It’s time to consciously co-create.

(First published on my FB page on July 2, 2014)

Poems: Homecoming

image

Home. Such a precious word.
Describing far more than a place.
It is all the times and spaces
You are at ease, safe.

Where all blindfolds have been removed,
Protective Kevlar set aside,
Chuckles gurgle past the lips
And tears need not hide

Where fingers snap and feet tap
To the beat of silent songs
When there is nothing to prove
Or attain, but simply carry on

Carry on being alive
Vividly. Brightly. Aware.
Knowing this is but an exotic game
And you have the courage to meet the dare.

You search for counterfeit comfort
In strange, distant lands
Or breathlessly await the gift
from another’s hands

While all along it waits patiently within,
Constant. Consistent. Available on demand

Related Post: Are You Singing Your Own Song Or Dancing To Another Tune?