I recently returned home to Brisbane after volunteering in Cambodia for a few weeks. I’m still digesting my experiences in this exotic kingdom, there is so much to take in: the beauty, the gentle spirits of the people I met, and sadness, too. The poverty, the scars of genocide, the trusting smile of a child, colourful food displays in busy markets, dusty streets with people buzzing by on motorbikes carrying wives and several children, empty coconut shells with plastic drinking straws sticking out of little holes littering the streets, the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, sacred meditations, tea rituals…
I have a slew of half written posts sitting in a drafts folder on my laptop, posts that if I were writing on a typewriter might be ripped out, crumpled up and thrown into the corner like writers do in the movies. Seems most of my Cambodian reflections have been more successfully documented with a camera – just snapshots taken with my phone along with the family pic above, taken by my nurse, photographer friend Myrza Muller. Thing is, as I snapped away, I noticed how my noticing shifted. I became increasingly awake to everything around me: the flutter of a leaf, the hands of prayer, the light behind the clouds. I slowed down, mindfully noticing the present. Such is the gift of art. Words, paint, captured moments – these are my prayer, my pathways to stillness.
And even when I put my phone away – when there were photographs I deliberately did not take, when I didn’t want to be like a tourist in a poverty zoo – there were moments that imprinted themselves on me. Like two young brothers walking home to the slum from the village school. Big Brother, no older than 10, walking with his arm tightly wrapped around Little Brother, no older than 6. Big Brother had conjunctivitis. He clutched the drops that were given to him at the clinic and had to go home. But he wouldn’t leave his brother at school – he said he was too small to walk home alone. So red eyed and barefoot they walked together, arm in arm, down the dirt road towards their shack where sick grandma lay sleeping. Perhaps this little boy’s act of love and kindness amidst everyday poverty will find its way into written stories that remind me of what it is to be human, that encourage me to practice gratitude everyday and that remind me to –
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life