Travel

Bangkok: Buddhism and Letting Go

I was all set to write a post about working out while I was in Thailand when I realized that wasn’t the most interesting part of my trip. At all.

Sure, I did manage to somehow completely skip over jet lag and the hotel happened to have an amazing gym. In fact, it inspired me to start a trial Paragon Performance Training week since I was feeling good and I couldn’t pass up the equipment. Which, in hindsight, was a terrible idea since I had DOMs for the entire week after.

Semi-familiar

This was my first trip to Thailand and, in many ways, it felt oddly familiar. Blame it on the heat, but there was something about Bangkok that reminded me of Rio.

It was, indeed, overwhelmingly warm and humid. It was chock full of familiar fruits, from jaca to lychee to my morning papaya. Beer seemed more common than wine. And it was filled with that relaxed sense of “what will happen will happen” in any place with a heat index over 100ºF.

What was unfamiliar, however, were the Buddhist temples. From the first day we arrived, there were statues and shrines of gods I’d come across through reading about religion or in my yoga teacher studies. But, I realized, I’d never had the opportunity to be entrenched in a culture where Buddhism was the predominant religion.

Culture reflects

While getting ready one morning, I had the TV on. I paused at a commercial that showed a woman angrily typing in response to something someone said online. Then she pauses, while the announcer cites the quote from Buddha:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

It was an ad for a meditation app, but I kept thinking about it throughout the day. What a nice reminder of mindfulness, even while just mindlessly watching TV.

Later that day, I had the opportunity to visit a few Buddhist temples with some colleagues and friends. As we knelt down before the large golden statue of the Buddha, I realized: I don’t know how to worship here. Culture is the water around us. You don’t notice it until you’re out of your water.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Pulling up to Wat Pho, I got teary-eyed. The buildings and structure were just so ornate and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. And they were built for a belief system so different than what I was used to, but one that I admire so deeply.

Walking around the temple got me thinking about the tenets of Buddhism, my past experience and understanding of it. Staring at the detailed buildings pulled me into the moment, immersing me in my own sense of curiosity, joy, and peace. It was a walking meditation, prompted by being purely overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the temple.

Just after walking around Wat Pho, I stopped in a cafe. I wanted to take a moment to soak it all in. I watched people walking down the street in a world so different from my own, and so similar. I never expected to be here and it was amazing.

Non-attachment

Since that moment, I keep thinking back to the overall experience, culture, and those little bits of difference. What is my relationship to Buddhism? What can I take from it? (Aside from a lifetime of wisdom and studies.) During my yoga teacher training, I remember settling on the word aparigraha, one of the eight limbs of yoga, which means “non-grasping.”

Non-attachment, a Buddhist philosophy, has always been my struggle. Living too much in the future or the past. Anxiety. Fear. But looking at that giant face of the Buddha in Wat Pho, I remember: through non-attachment, there’s no anxiety. There’s only the present moment.

It sounds obvious, of course. Possibly ignorant, as a Westerner raised Catholic making observations about Buddhism. But it’s something I took away with me. It’s a concept I’ve thought about at length, but somehow always end up shoving it into the back of my mind.

As I re-acclimate back home, anxious to catch-up on work and what the next month will bring, I think back to that burning hot, sunny day and that feeling of joy, peace, and presence. I ask myself: Am I grasping? Do I need to be?

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