Learning to Walk Fully in Thailand — Page 2
Story and photos by Luke Maguire Armstrong

On these early mornings in Thailand, I don’t think of any of this. All I know is that the hills and fields surrounding Wat Sarapatdi are everything you imagine Asia to be. A green river snakes through polygon plots of rice patties, each a different shade of straw. Trees bunch together like bands of brothers. Birds of every range of note have too much to say and never grow tired of tweeting it. An ochre dirt road weaves to the horizon then disappears into a curtain of hazy humidity that connects the earth to an unbounded sky.

Peacock in Thailand

There is a slow fall-off in the sounds of night insects exhausted from their dusk till dawn performance, while a crescendoing choir of morning insects are just waking up to sing. The roosters trying to outdo one another. There are birds partial to quarter notes, birds drawing out long trailing notes, eighth note birds, and birds all over the scale.

Buddhist cave

I am madly in love with every moment on my mornings collecting alms.

The road is misty, like it is hiding something from the dawn. The horizon begins to hint at a kaleidoscope of still-hidden colors. The air is thick with the memory of everything—a freshly-watered greenhouse, a tomato leaf from your dad's garden, blue fruit rollups, the tadpole pond of youth—everything is new, yet so familiar, like it’s already been visited in dreams

We walk trails that cut through bamboo forests to the village's outskirts. Dogs run to us. Some are thrilled to see us while others show us their gnarled teeth.

When we reach the dirt road that leads to the village, the smell of cattle overpowers everything else. The road is flanked by banana trees and scarred coconut palms.

I am permitted no phone or camera to capture this pervading paradise. The head nun confiscated all of my electronics on arrival. She then handed me two pages of Pali chants to memorize and recite for the abbot the next day. With Mott’s help, I spent the night inventing pneumonic devices to memorize as much as I could so I could stay.

Up Before Dawn to Give Alms

There is no way to prepare for the display of grace, gratitude, and respect that the people shower us with when we enter their village. Our asking for food is not begging as we use the word. The people offer us more than food. They offer us their hearts. They lose themselves in a daily surrender of giving. The villagers bow to the monks, but really they are bowing to the dharma, to truth.

Vase of Thailand

Though it’s just past 6 a.m., every house in the village has someone up cooking for us. At each household a man, or woman, or two women, or mother and child, or a young boy, or twin sisters and their mother, or a father and his daughter, come to greet us. They remove their sandals, bow to the monks, and spoon rice into the monk's alms bowl.

I am fortunate to witness this. I still carry the weight of disillusionment from my injury, but am aware that it has brought me here. This pain has carried me to a moment as sincere and real as anything I’ve ever experienced.

Temple in Thailand

Maybe the villagers feel like I do. Maybe as they offer food to the monks their actions outshine whatever worries and concerns they carry. I bow my head with hands at heart center—anjali mudra—to each alms giver—my mind conquered by their gratitude.

Mindfulness can be seen as awareness of the magnitude of each moment—to be fully checked into it and accepting it as perfect in itself—no further destination, no greater mountain to climb, just a pulsating experience as the sun rises higher into a glowing sky. Every moment of my life led me to right here, right now. On these early-morning alms walks in Thailand, my mind and its worries relax. I am made whole by the moment at hand.

I am learning to simply walk—not how to walk somewhere, but how to walk fully immersed within a moment. I am learning to be. To be okay with physical pain and alright with thwarted plans. I am learning to be alive and let each breath be enough for now.

Lucas Maguire ArmstrongLuke Maguire Armstrong is the author of the travelogue The Nomad's Nomad. His travel writing and development work has led to to spend time in some 40 countries. This led him to being featured on ABC News 20/20 and interviewed by Christiane Amanpour. Currently he works to continue to enable the holistic education of 80 impoverished children through an education center he opened with The Integral Heart Family in 2016.

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Related Features:
The Eyeless Blessing of Sangha Tenzin - Marco Ferrarese
I Was a Thai Travel Trinket - Darrin DuFord
Thai Voluntourism for All the Wrong Reasons - Gillian Kendall
Unreached Realities in Guatemalan Mangroves - Luke Maguire Armstrong

See other Asia travel stories from the archives

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The Nomad's Nomad

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