If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter at all, you might have noticed that I have been in Phnom Penh for a while. I find the ‘travelling’ part of travelling a little tiring, particularly in the rainy season, and so I’ve decided to make Phnom Penh my home for the summer. My posts over the next couple of months might feel a bit more expat-y than backpacker-y – just a heads up. And here is the first of them – a meditation on, err, meditation.
The entrance to Wat Langka.
As I have expressed in a few posts before, I am by no means the greatest fan of visiting temples. I’m sure I seem like an uncultured heathen when I say ‘seen one, seen ‘em all’, but y’know, seen one, seen ‘em all. A temple needs to offer me a little more than a shrine to Buddha and some gold leaf to keep me interested. On my journey, I have surprised myself by enjoying some temple experiences such as Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, unique because of the monk chats that happen at the temple every afternoon, and Wat Pho in Bangkok, unique because of the bloody massive reclining Buddha.
Wat Langka’s point of difference is that it holds open meditation sessions a few times a week, and anyone and everyone is welcome to join. I know that an interest in meditation might make me seem like a bit of a hippie (I’m not – cross my heart and hope to have revolting, matted hair), but actually I find it really useful. I’m by no means an expert in it or very practiced, but I have dabbled in meditation at home in London (I’m fortunate to live close by to the excellent London Buddhist Centre) and it feels good to be meditating in Phnom Penh. People meditate for different reasons, and for me, it basically helps me feel calmer. I am not a very calm person at all. I find it difficult not to be overwhelmed by anger on a regular basis, which is obviously not a very healthy way to live, and somehow crossing my legs and shutting my eyes for half an hour helps.
The practice of meditation is fundamentally an exercise in mindfulness. In a meditation session, this practically means that you concentrate on one thing, and that one thing is usually your breathing. After a short while of trying to concentrate on my breaths, I am made very aware of how cluttered my mind is, jumping into the past and jumping into the future almost constantly. When meditating, it is important to notice when your mind goes off track, not to berate yourself for it, but to then take your concentration back to your breathing. Wat Langka is a great place for anybody thinking of meditating for the first time as the monks distribute little books out to first timers, explaining the beginnings of a good meditation practice. I find that being in a beautiful 15th century temple is helpful as well, even if it does look like all the others.
The crowd at Wat Langka is a mix of locals and expats, and the atmosphere is very welcoming. Meditation sessions last for one hour, but one hour of silence and focusing your mind just on your breath can be a really difficult thing, so you can leave the temple hall at any point during the meditation. I usually make it to about forty-five minutes, but I read recently that even twenty minutes of meditation a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes in later life.
The meditation hall.
If you happen to be in Phnom Penh and have an inkling of an interest in meditation, I thoroughly recommend getting your backside to this temple on Sihanouk Boulevard, not far from Independence Monument.
Do you meditate? What do you find useful about it?