Wednesday, November 20, 2013

lanterns of love

Summer of 2012 was the first time I swam in stars. In November of 2013 I was lucky enough to add some to the sky.


One evening two summers ago in PakoŇ°tane, Mick and I were having one of our usual life chats as we overlooked the water. We watched the moonlight dance along the waves, hypnotizing us with its rhythmic beat until we noticed something within the water. Brilliant light was breathing under the sea, inhaling and exhaling. These beautiful, florescent rays of light were holding their own playful performance. We later found out that is was phosphorescent plankton. When the moon is full and water is warm, the glow in the dark plankton are highly visible and extremely mesmerizing.


Later that summer, some other wonderful souls, Mick, and I jumped into the Adriatic and swam with the plankton. As we dived down and played around, the plankton lit up and surrounded us. It was as if we were flying in a galaxy of infinite stars.  Our hearts were full and smiles wide.  You could not tell the difference between the starry Croatian sky and the bedazzled sea.


18 months later this wonderful world has brought me to Thailand, right in time for Loi Krathong. This festival is held on the eve of the full moon during the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar. Lanterns are released into the sky and decorated floats are sailed down rivers. History notes this ritual as means of giving thanks to the water Goddess, Pra Mae Khongkha, for using and dirtying her water, as well as thanking Buddha and asking for a bright future.  After experiencing the magical moment for myself, I believe the festival creates a unique opportunity to collect pure peace, honest thanks, and true love in one space.



A few friends, fellow teachers, and I decided to head up north to Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong.  Another weekend, another overnight bus trip. Laura and I booked our bus tickets a day too late so we had to take the cheaper, economy bus for 15 hours.  I was expecting to see the Thai’s version of a school bus, equipped with hard seats and no air conditioning, so when a regular coach bus finally pulled up I was pleasantly surprised – until I sat down.  Ohh the agony of being 5’10” in a land of people reaching only 5 feet tall. My legs were too long to fit in the cramped seats so I either had to straddle the seat in front of me and turn my body sideways so my legs extended into the aisle. Nevertheless, it was an uncomfortable and cold ride – but that is the price you pay when you want to travel cheap!



We finally arrived in Chiang Mai and made our way to Mojito House Hostel, eager to walk, eat, and explore.  We met a very kind British girl on our bus ride and she soon joined us at our hostel and for the festivities.  The three of us strolled around the city, wandering down windy lanes and finding hidden treasures of shops and restaurants. The old town of Chiang Mai stands within a walled fortress and is buffered by a moat. It guards sacred temples and rambunctious markets. It is home to a large expat community that blends seamlessly into the local lifestyle. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand so it is quite built up; however, it has not lost its Thai charm. The city is circled by grand mountains so it can easily maintain his bohemian edge. There is no chaotic bustle like Bangkok, just a delicious fusion of culture, sophistication, and tradition.


Every tourist, shopkeeper, or passerby we spoke to told us different facts and directions about the festival. We were hoping to go to the grand release of Lanterns but heard mixed reviews of where to go. Some told us we missed it, but that there would be a parade and the ceremony of the floating lanterns in the river. Eventually, we solved the riddle and planned to go to the temple behind Mae Jo University for the lantern release. Luckily, our accommodation’s sister hostel organized travel to and from the university that was only 20 kilometers away (meaning an hour with Thai traffic). I boarded the Songtaew without expectations. I would have been happy to see one lantern, let alone hundreds of thousands.


 Traffic grew to be too much so we hopped off our safe red truck and followed the ant line to the festival grounds. The energy was already buzzing and bouncing around. As we walked through the gate we entered a spacious field where Thai families, seasoned travelers, local expats, professionals, and students all congregated.  Everyone was seated, patiently waiting for the ceremonies to commence and busying themselves with anticipatory chatter. Our large group found an open spot with a clear view of the monks and a panoramic shot of the field.


 
We spent the next hour or so watching stray lanterns scatter light among the darkening sky. As twilight struck, announcers – in Thai, English, and Chinese – taught us how to properly bow properly, safely light the lanterns safely, and humbly say a few prayers.  The rituals began and an awed silence blanketed the crowd. The space pulsated with peaceful and positive vibes. The gathering bowed, prayed, and gave thanks to whichever God they believe in.


Eventually the monks, clothed in an earthy orange and radiating peace, stood to ceremoniously light the torches that will soon burn with the light we would send off to the heavens. There was an uproar of delight and praise among the crowd as a luminous cloud of smoke offset the Monks’ humble shadows.  Afterwards several monks, spiritual leaders, and children held a candlelit processional around the grounds.  As they encircled us with their serene march, the monks on the podium remained chanting. This process was mystical and truly divine. I felt swept up in the chants and submerged in this spiritual cleanse.




The hosts directed us to light our lanterns and hold on to them so we can release them in unison. One by one, fires ignited and glowed through the incandescent paper. I looked around and saw warm faces and genuine smiles blooming in the candlelight. Excitement and anticipation was running through everyone’s veins, causing a few to prematurely release their lanterns. We took turns helping each other light these massive lanterns, so giddy that it was all actually happening. The announcer’s voice boomed, giving us the signal to release these gentle messages to a heavenly God above.







Only a few times in my life have I ever felt so whole.  Thousands and thousands of lanterns were released as once. The crowd squealed and cheered. In that moment I was wrapped and caressed with the purest forms of love and gratitude. Every single lantern in the sky carried wishes of thanks, forgiveness, health, love, and joy. I was surrounded by infinite happiness and being carried away with each new wave of lanterns being released.







Everyone spun in circles to digest the view. It was simply magical. Words and pictures cannot attempt to describe nor reflect the breathtaking beauty of a hundred thousand lanterns being released into the night sky.



Before I released my first lantern I said an honest prayer from my full heart. I released it to join to the others, giving thanks to my Nana, blessing baby boy McBride, and asking to heal sweet little Holly. I stood in awe watching the lanterns join together and form a galaxy over us. I honored each lantern to a loved one, placing their souls into the dazzling sky above. 


 





A very loving Thai family sat next to us in the grass. The mother cradled her infant in her arms as the older brother played games with his dad. The love between them was evident and fascinating. 




After I lit one of my lanterns, I thought it was filled enough with the hot air for it to be released; but the mother gently placed her hand on mine and said ‘It’s not ready yet’ with a kind smile. Perhaps she was just offering polite advice, but to me she spoke volumes. 


A reoccurring lesson in my life is that we must wait until the timing is right. We may be handed the skills, opportunities, and tools in the present; however, we must practice temperance and patience until the moment comes when we can let them flourish. We must learn at a mediocre job before we begin our dream career. We must survive a tumultuous relationship in order to enjoy the ease of a healthy one. We must love ourselves before we give our hearts to another. We must fall deeply off the path so that can find ourselves in a new light. We must wait until our lantern is filled before we can release it. We must wait until the timing is right.




I left Chiang Mai with my heart and soul bursting with gratitude. Once again I have found myself in an incredible place witnessing the beauty of love.




We are blessed with a beautiful world that is filled with rich cultures and honored traditions. Take time to learn about them and embrace what they offer. You may just find yourself in a radiant sea of light and love. 

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