I recently had the opportunity to visit the great ruins of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. How marvellous, breathtaking, historic. There was one temple enclosure that is called Ta Prohm – those who don’t know about it might have seen it in a scene of the movie “Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie.
Imagine this – beautifully carved stones, patina-ed by a thin coating of blue-green moss, hugged by giant silvery trees whose roots more closely resemble the tentacles of octopus. With trunks looming large above the arches and pillars, exposed roots branch from both the ground and sprouted from tops of piles of precious artefacts. Jungle and temple merged in a dance of past and present, creation and destruction.
As I tuned out the flowing stream of international tourists, I considered this formidable structure and the equally remarkable natural occurrence – that one of the contributing factors which made this a most awe-some site was also destroying it. I reflected that this seemed to parallel the situation with sightseers within its walls – that their presence which was supporting much of the growth in the area was also straining its precious resource.
Hmmm… how does this relate to the mind? This trip emerged a number of thoughts which might be loosely linked – take them as a whole or piece by piece (whatever serves you best).
Of Buildings and People
The temples of Angkor have remained over centuries and though there may have been natural wear or war over the years, they still maintain their magnificence. So it is with the Cambodian people I met. We stayed in the Sala Bai, a hospitality training centre for underprivileged young people. But to see them smiling and professional, with a real interest in others well-being, it’s hard to imagine that they have been through so much in their short lives – they appear to be prime examples of the resilience of the human spirit. While buildings don’t have the power of choice, we do – to crumble or to sustain. While we each might feel like ‘ruins’ at times, each person reading this has survived all the ups and downs of life. Your mere existence is a testament to your own personal abilities, strengths and inner fire.
Good Deeds Run Deep
There were a lot of great rulers in the Khmer empires, but the greatest were the most prolific. Not only in their creation of massive temples, but of building infrastructure for the country. So it seems sometimes with the way we work on a daily basis – while grand gestures are highlights, many of the strongest links we make with others is making ‘infrastructural’ connections with friends, family, clients, colleagues etc. These pave the roads between ourselves and others over the long term. Within the brain, repeated connections build firm links between areas of the mind, creating more efficient, habitual reactions and bonds.
Creating Treasures (or French Finds)
Soon after daybreak we came upon Banteay Srei, its fine rose sandstone and delicate carvings were warmed by the first light of morning. It was magical. I can’t imagine what French Archaeologist H. Marchal must have been thinking when he ‘discovered’ it in 1936. Many of the temples around Siam Reap were brought to international light by foreigners, even though they had existed for 100s of years and probably many Cambodians had seen or heard of them. So it is sometimes with our own personal treasures – often it takes a ‘foreign agent’ to help us discover or rediscover those that exist inside ourselves. It’s an objective force that makes note of our uniqueness so we can share it more consciously with others.
The Difference between Plants and Weeds (Valuable Stones?)
They say that the only differences between plants and weeds are that weeds don’t turn up where you intend them and tend to be a lot more difficult to cull. As my father and our tour guide were wandering around the grounds of a park, Mr Ta bent down and brushed off a stone, revealing beautifully carved details on it. My dad was flabbergasted – a stone had turned into an artefact before his very eyes. Something of ‘no value’ had become ‘wondrous’ in a matter of seconds. At the same time, there was nothing wrong with a stone being a stone. Some naturalists might say that carving rock takes away from its natural beauty. I’ll leave you to decide – I believe they’re both perfect for their purpose. Often people coming to make a change worry about what others will think of their ‘bad’ habit. Only the conscious mind puts labels of ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘valuable’, ‘useless’ on concepts or actions – the subconscious mind is not morally biased. A rule of thumb that I use about change is – if it’s not working for you anymore, then make a change. Being a stone amongst carved pillars (or vice versa) is just fine.
Re-piecing the Jigsaw
Scattered around most of the Angkor sites were piles of numbered stones that had to be reconstructed in a gigantic three-dimensional ‘puzzle’. During the civil war many of the components of the temples that had been set in particular places to continue restoration were used by the Khmer Rouge to create protective fortresses and many were lost through the years. I often meet people who wish to get back to the way they were at a happier, earlier time (even if it were only a moment). While we may feel like some of the pieces don’t fit (or might be from another place altogether) they are all there. While some may be rejected by us, and others may challenge us to find a place for them, there is a whole. And both the process and the outcome are more magnificent than any of the wonders of the world.
Through the Eyes of Wonder (Vacation Mentality)
I realised that I turn on and turn off my ‘wonder world’ depending on my location, and my pre-conceived ideas of where ‘treasures’ should be. In Cambodia there were so many ‘neat’ things to see and do, but when I returned to Singapore, it was ‘same same’. Fortunately, with my father visiting I have been able to take a newer look at old surroundings. The norms that surround us every day, which are actually cool, or striking, or technologically advanced, or intriguing, often blend into a grey haze. A fresh viewpoint has brought back colour to daily patterns here at home. After doing it for a couple days, I strongly advise putting on a ‘vacation mentality’ in your own town or workplace and allow yourself to see it as though you were seeing it for the first time – it might surprise you what you’ve been missing.
Treasure yourself today,