An Affair of the Heart
Practice for Compassion
Luang Prabang, Laos
Doors open and close a hundred times throughout the day. Such is life. Curious and receptive attention is needed to know when a door has opened inviting you into the kingdom of the heart, potential change and deep connection. May it be an encounter, words of wisdom slipped in between mundane conversation, or even a dream. Each, in its own way, may be that door, that message, that one that offers a fresh new perspective or a creative explosion of the heart. There may be no logic or reason but your deepest gut tells you that it is right.
The wheel of our propellered 36 seater, touched down August 8th, 2010 on the fertile ground of Luang Prabang, Laos, an off-the-map destination to most, but a hidden treasure for those that have visited. It all happened so quickly. With no more than 32 minutes and 6 seconds, we were instructed to select a destination to literally drop in and drop out, enabling us to avoid being fined for overextending our Thai visa. It was a random, if that exists, pin-the-tail on the map, split second, decision. This was the beginning of an instantaneous love affair of hearts to heart, souls to Soul that would inevitably change the course of my life forever.
As my feet touched the ground, I felt the warm balmy air envelop my skin. There was something, what, I can’t explain. It wasn’t the beauty of the Nam Khan wrapping itself around the peninsula and spilling into the Mekong, nor the smell of sweet sticky rice, or the warm welcome of smiles, it was something much deeper, much closer to the Soul.
Thirty-three monasteries sandwiched together in approximately 2.5 square kilometers might have something to do with it. Here, we see red, there, in Luang Prabang, they see orange, infinite orange, the colour of intuition, inspiration, Divine Love, heightened awareness, passion and fire. ‘’They’’ say, that if a particular place or thing is prayed or mediated upon day in and day out that place or thing becomes sacred. This is what was felt the moment I stepped foot on this faraway land of Luang Prabang.
It is just 6am when we returned to our modest guesthouse along the Nam River. Carrying empty bowls that were once filled with benevolent offerings that were humbly slipped into the urns of an endless silent thread of burnt orange robes, my heart felt open and love poured in. The sun had just begun its ascent above the lush emerald hillsides as we made our way down a narrow alley à la queue leu-leu squished between a monastery and a strand of closely woven makeshift homes. Except for an occasional footstep, silence permeated the air. As I followed the steps in front of me, I wiped the remaining sleep from the corners of my eyes. For no apparent reason except for an inaudible whisper of intuition and that of the open door of destiny, my eyes gazed to the left and locked with those of one Buddhist monk among many. Time seemed to stand still, suspended like the full moon in the blackness of the night’s canvas. A large white brick wall separated us. Neither spoke, neither moved for what seemed like an eternity but I knew a door had just opened so I consciously stepped inside.
Through one simple encounter on a very given day, a life- changing door cracked opened for only a brief moment on a sunny afternoon and began a chain of events never to be forgotten. The call of my heart manifested louder than any obstacle and naturally things fell wonderfully into place. This encounter became the beginning of an endearing transformational relationship between a searching yogini and a peaceful Buddhist monk. We spoke for hours, mostly question and response, politely taking turns and making the most of this auspicious encounter.
As all things must come to an end, this brief moment in Luang Prabang had its time numbered as well. Little did I know my Soul yearned for more, so much more that unexplainable sobs showered me at the airport as we boarded our plane back to Bangkok. Little did I know, the universe was magically weaving its web and had epic plans in the making. This pilgrimage would be one of many. Less than 6 months later, I found myself kneeling at the back of that same monastery amongst 16 monks robbed in orange. Chants in Pali of devotion moved me to unchartered dimensions. Thirteen days meditating day in and day out. Visions and epiphanies came flying at me as my heart cracked wide open and my mind grew softer and softer. Transformation was abounding.
This place has a way with me. Eight trips in total, 156 days to be exact, all in less than 4 years. My heart and Soul are always there and Luang Prabang and its people are infinitely present at the core of my heart. From just a random encounter in a far away land I have learned more about my true self, the meaning of love in it’s purest form and the epic-ness of mankind and of Life, than any book, class or teachings could ever offer.
The over spilling of my heart of gratitude and love sparked a dire need to humbly help where I could. So, I began where I could and with what I could, supporting one auspicious monk who dreamt of becoming a lawyer.
Profound relationships were forged through loving kindness and pure joy. From that one special monk who dreamt of studying law, 27 more orphaned teens chimed in as well as a year’s collect of overspill from the abundant wealth of Switzerland. A collection of school books, clothes, shoes, items of personal hygiene and bedding, totally one ton 200 kilos was sent and shared amongst 600 young orphaned children. Endless classes of yoga and meditation are taught for the Lao students, orphans and dear friends and family. But the most rewarding was what they offer me, love, deep love without attachment, inner joy, that ‘’bor pen nyang’’ attitude of no worries, everything will work out just fine, and endless smiles of the heart.
This past trip was unique and I even had a slight change of heart. I would be arriving empty handed, no money, no phones or computers, clothes, books or chocolate, just me at my rawest form. I had nothing to offer but my presence, and my love. I wondered, how would I be received, or even received at all? Making my way out into the balmy air from the newly constructed airport, my heart sank in humility. From all directions, by foot and bike, motorbike and tuk-tuk, I was met at the airport by 14 friends/students/family with more love and hugs than anyone could possibly know what to do with, but cry in tears of deep heart connections of tender love.
Practice for Compassion was born out of love, a year to date from that first day I set foot on this life altering land. It is nothing more than a true grassroots, heartfelt, kind of makeshift foundation without a real foundation at all. I am in the field working my heart a lot and I LOVE it. I get by pretty well in pasa Lao (Lao language) and connect weekly, thanks to Facebook and email with my 98 friends and family from this tiny off- the –map-heart-exploding-sacred land. Community and love are at the root as well as passion and desire to follow the calling of my heart and my Soul.
I am forever grateful for all the abundant contributions from my family, friends, students, and anonymous donations that have helped these humble dream chasers manifest their dharma. Practice for Compassion has raised over $10’000 and helped 5 students attend university, 25 students through high school and extra-curricular classes, shipped 100 boxes (one ton 200 kilos) chalk full of golden goodness to a local orphanage, supplied 8 computers, 1500 toothbrushes to local villages and endless meals to those who want to share the goldenness of connection. Life is oh so sweet, especially in a place we can call home.
Golden Goodness for Laos
The Art of Karma Yoga
Starfish Story Loren Eiseley
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him, ‘’why are you working so hard at this strange task.’’ He replied, ‘’the sun will soon rise and the starfish will die.’’ Without understanding, I replied,‘’this is foolish, there are thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. ‘’ He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said,
“It makes a difference for this one.”
Yoga is often defined as the method or science of joining, connecting or yoking. If this is so, then what are we seeking to yoke?
Through the practice of yoga and meditation, we are offered glimpses, if not wide-open doors into the true nature of our being. Yoga, as well as many other parallel traditions, teaches us that, at our core, we are of humble goodness and divine light.
Within the parameters of yoga, there are hundreds of interpretations or paths (marga), sometimes opposing, yet most often, sharing the common denominator of inner peace and reuniting our individual soul (Jiva Atman) with the universal soul (Para Atmam), in which we all originate. As students and teachers, we seek to experience, via yoga’s canvas of sweeping nuances, to reconnect with that place we can call home, untouched by time, place or causation.
Each interpretation yields something different. Through the practice of bhakti yoga, we connect with the heart by means of devotion and love while the practice of hatha yoga unites us with the sacred temple of our bodies. Jnana yoga offers us insight into the mind through discernment and meditation, and swara yoga empowers us to reunite with the power and mastery of the breath. By means of karma yoga we connect through service.
Karma yoga, one of the four pillars of yoga is understood as the path of selfless altruistic service. The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit root kri, meaning ‘’action’’ or ‘’to do’’. Karma yoga is the path of union through our actions, but not just any actions, those actions that are aligned with the right intention and with our dharma or duty and when we are unattached to the fruits of our deeds. It is the gateway to generosity and is the first step towards eliminating greed, hatred and delusion because behind every act of giving is an act of loving kindness (meta) and compassion (karuna).
Shantideva, an 8th-century scholar, yogi and monk spoke about changing roles. He proposed, in order to touch the heart, we can practice humbly stepping outside the limelight of the epicenter and retreat to the periphery. This act of mindfully and purposefully placing others in the center without forgetting our own needs fosters human kindness.
Karma yoga is the art of giving by offering our time, our presence, our services, our money or anything that can benefit others. This intrinsic path has an instrumental role in yogic philosophy reminding us that, as much as our practice appears to be all about us, our bodies, our minds and our accomplishments, it is really a reminder that we are all fundamentally connected at our core, breathing the same air, supported by the same earth and sharing the same basic needs as love.
Karma yoga encourages us to stretch the limitations of our heart and extend compassion right out there to others, even to those that are less fortunate, those that we judge lacking in merit, and above all, those who don’t extend anything in return.
‘’A single, ordinary person still can make a difference- and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day.’’ Chris Bohialian
Helping others is known to boost self-esteem, appease depression, solitude and self-loathing, cultivate empathy and eliminate apathy, grow compassion, gratitude and self-love, and make the world blossom into a good place to be. It has the power to free us from past karma while stimulating the 4th chakra, the muscle of love, and, it brings a smile to the heart of others and boomerangs right back to you.
My grandfather, my mentor, used to say, ‘’giving should hurt’’. What he meant by this was that giving should be felt by the altruist. It should take something away from ourselves whether it be some of our time, our finances, or whatever we choose to offer up.
We, at O2yoga, would like to thank you for taking the time to Spring clean and help us fill close to 100 boxes of much-needed clothing, school supplies, and books for the children at Deak Kumpa Orphanage in Laos as well as donations in benefit of the students that are part of our scholarship program for continuing education, Practice for Compassion. Without you and your generosity we couldn’t have succeeded! Even symbolic acts of kindness offered with the right intention and a big heart are capable of changing the world, at least one step at a time.
With infinite gratitude,
From that place of goodness inside us, we salute that place of goodness within you,
Charity EVENT Saturday, June 1
Practice for Compassion
In favor of continuing education for young Lao individuals.
Please join us in making a huge change in the lives of others by showing up for a class or two and spreading the word. 100% of the proceeds go directly to the education of the 7 Lao students.
For more information about this event and our karma yoga projects in Laos, please visit our website http://o2yoga.ch/karma-yoga.html
Sent and arrived intact to Luang Prabang- one ton and 600 pounds of clothes, books, school supplies, basic medical care, bedding, and toys.
It all begin with a random encounter on a random day with a random monk in Luang Prabang, Laos. Sengphete became an inspiration, a reason to open my heart and let compassion sink in. Mentorship and then friendship developed and soon he was on his way living a new life, one he had only dreamt about. Within six years he learned to speak and write in English, left the monastery which had been his home for over a decade, attended and graduated from law school, traveled to Vientiane for the first time via plane and now is currently working for Unesco, the World Heritage Centre in Laos.
Sengphete is a 19-year-old Buddhist monk from a small village north of Luang Prabang, Laos. Laos is considered one of the 10 poorest countries in the world with an income of less than 19 cents per day to nourish an entire family. Although Buddhist studies are extremely important in the Laos culture, many young boys choose a monastic lifestyle offering them free education and living. Sengphete has spent half of his life living and studying as a monk. Today, he dreams of continuing his studies at the university specializing in law. His studies and living costs amount to close to CHF 5’000 for 4 years and without help from the outside world, there is no chance. We met Sengphete during our travels to Laos in 2010 and have followed his life through regular contact. O2Yoga has committed to assuring the totality of his financial needs and offer you the opportunity to graciously participate in making his dream come true.
Sengphete left Wat Khili in early August by exchanging his saffron robe for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. As a layperson, his first concern was to find an inexpensive place to live that was in the vicinity of the university. He found a small room just big enough for a single bed and a small dresser. Although there isn’t a kitchen and the toilet is outside, he is happy with his new home, which he shares in good company with other university students. Panee, his landlady generously offers him the use of her motorcycle that he has learned to drive and which allows Phete greater freedom to discover Luang Prabang. While living in the monastery, he never had to be concerned with food. The monks receive 2 meals a day from local lay people. Since, Phete has had to learn to cook simple Lao dishes on a small gas flame in front of his room and take advantage of the local market for inexpensive dishes that they serve up in small plastic bags for ”take away”. Phete’s days are spent working at a local guesthouse where he works as a receptionist and helps out in the restaurant when breakfast is served. He apprenticed in August and as of September earns 50SFR a month for 12-hour days. He completed his final exams at the monk school scoring 87 out of 93 and completed his entrance exams for law school, which he currently awaits for a reply. Though his life is quite different, he carries the teaching of Buddhism in his heart and is adapting well to this new way of life.
My life as normal person was very different from life as monk especially how to spend time in every day. When I was a monk I usually spent my time with learning Dhamma and meditate and how to become peace and how to teach people have a good heart and make a good thing. But after I stopping a monk, my heart still live at the temple and would like to do at the same thing but I am so sad that I can do it some time because I have to work hard and learn how to live at outside world and keep my learning at law school.
I always think that if I don’t have you to help and support me, I won’t have this day because life at outside everything I have to pay.
I got support and help from you so I can find somewhere to live or sleep, have some food to eat every day and have school for study and improve my poor life to good life.
I always feel that you treat me like a son because you give me room and food to me for grow, you shown the light of love on me, you give me hope and future and you give me like air so I can breathe. this is all my feeling to you.
Sengphete is close to completing his first year of law school at the University of Luang Prabang in Laos. He has had a challenging year adapting to his new life outside of the monastery where he had lived for a good portion of his life. With your help, Sengphete has been able to cover the costs of a small room that he shares in the dormitory and 2 meals a day. He has learned to cook and care for himself while spending his waking hours studying law and Chinese. His efforts have reached fruition with 4 As in English, Data, Lao and History, 2 Bs in Youth Organisation and Asian Working and a C+ in Human Relations and a C in Enterprise and Law
‘’After breakfast, I study my law lessons and then go to the university from 13h00-16h45 and then come home to study my Chinese. My Chinese classes are every Saturday and Sunday from 8h30 to 11h30. I really enjoy studying. I did all my best, I went to school every day and answered the questions the teacher asked. So at the end of the second term, I would like to improve my grades and register for exams again.’’
You can still help make Sengphete’s dream of completing law school come true by donating to any of the following expenses. We really appreciate your help too!! You can choose where and what you want your donation to cover. Our travels will take us to Laos this summer where we will be spending 3 weeks with Sengphete and our other dear Laotian friends. We would appreciate any donations before the 11th of July and if you are interested in knowing more about Sengphete and wish to contact him via email directly just let us know. He would be thrilled to have more opportunities to practice his English! Thank YOU!!
The below expenses are for a 12 month period
120CHF Chinese classes and books
300CHF Room rental
340CHF Law school tuition
50CHF School books
Some interesting facts about living life in Laos
Population = 5.76 million
Land mass = 91,428 square miles
People per square mile = 63
Life expectancy = 56.3 years
Literacy rate = 55%
Access to safe water = 51%
Average annual income = $500 us
Buddhist = 65%
Animist = 32.9%
Christian = 1.3%
Other Religions = .8%
Under age 5 mortality rate = 75/1,000
Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (dubbed Laos by its former French colonizers) is simply called Lao by its inhabitants. The people and language are also called Lao. Lao is a small communist country inhabited by 5.76 million people (latest estimates), has a total land area of 236,800 sq.kms, stretching more than 1700 kms from north to south and between 100-400 km east to west. It is a landlocked and mountainous country in the centre of the Indo-China peninsula bordering China and Myanmar in the north, Vietnam in the east, Thailand in the west and Cambodia in the south. The 1865 km stretch of the Mekong river, one of the longest rivers in the world, defines the parts of its borders with Myanmar and Thailand, and also serves as a traditional link for Lao to Thailand and Cambodia. The Mekong River forms much of Lao’s border with Thailand and flows for nearly 1,000 miles through Lao. The Annamite Mountains stretch for 1,300 miles along the eastern border with Vietnam. The terrain consists of heavily forested rugged mountains in the northern and central provinces, with some plains and plateaus in the south.
The French, when they seized power, stayed too short a time to place any priority on education. Villages in Lao are often so small – with a maximum of five or seven houses situated as far as twenty-five miles from their closest neighbor – that it has not seemed practicable to have a school for each village. There is perhaps 55% literacy. The one University in Vientiane has a faculty of medicine, architecture and engineering, in addition to various arts subjects. Degrees are awarded up to graduate level.
Lao is the official language of the country and is spoken by 95 percent of Lao people. French is still spoken by some of the elderly Lao, and English usage has increased tremendously in recent years. English is the most studied second language in Lao, especially in the former capital city of Luang Prabang which became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. English is the key to success for all Lao people in Luang Prabang. Many Lao living in the highlands speak a variety of ethnic languages. The Lao people make up 55 percent of the population, while members of the Khmu and Hmong groups represent nearly 20 percent of people. More than 120 other ethnic groups are also present, including the Yao, Akha, and Lahu, as well as small communities of Chinese and Vietnamese.
In the education sector, 40 percent of boys and 33 percent of girls attend secondary school—42 percent fewer children than attend primary school. One reason for this decline is that 65 percent of primary schools are unable to offer classes in all grade levels. Most schools offer up to only the second grade, which prevents children from completing their basic education. Approximately 25 percent of teachers lack formal training; in fact eight percent of them have not completed primary school. Teachers receive low salaries and are not equipped with the proper resources to teach. The government currently spends less than three percent of the nation’s budget on education, ranking it 111th out of 132 countries worldwide.
Lao is, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in the world. The aerial bombardment of the 1960s and 1970s left approximately 16 million unexploded cluster bombs scattered throughout the country. Fifteen of Laos’s 18 provinces are affected—an area of more than 33,000 square miles. Since 1975 there have been an estimated 11,000 casualties as a result of unexploded ordnances (UXO). There is a correlation between areas with UXO and high rates of poverty and food insecurity. Farmers, who use their crops to feed their families, are prevented from safely cultivating their land.
The United Nations World Food Program estimates that 30 percent of Lao do not have sufficient amounts of food for six months of the year. More than 40 percent of children under the age of 5 experience stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. The national infant mortality rate is nearly six percent; and 7.5 percent of children die before reaching their fifth birthday—both rates are among the highest in Southeast Asia. An insufficient health-care system, high levels of food insecurity, and poor hygiene have contributed to Lao’s poor health status.
Poverty is higher in rural regions, suburban areas without roads, and in central and northern provinces. Nearly 40 percent of Lao live below the poverty line, and three-quarters of people earn less than $2 a day. Agriculture, mostly subsistence farming, employs 80 percent of the population and produces 41 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Crops include rice, sweet potatoes, corn, fruit, spices, and cotton. The government has instituted economic reforms and has recently relied on a resurgent tourism industry as a source of foreign exchange.
Practice for Compassion has financed 26 students through high school and university. We are so proud of you!
I feel very happy when I see you because you are the best person that I see and thankful for you and for teaching us yoga.I feel so much in my heart, sometimes I see you like my mother. I will never forget you and your smile and kindness. (Sinxay Anoulee)
Happy New Year mom. New Year have reached already. Please leave all the bad things away with the past and make yourself relaxing and create plans to get a better life. We all wish you good luck and get whatever you need and especially don’t forget us. You’re a really amazing part of our lives mom. You will always touch our hearts ever. I would like to let you know that we love you very much because you are very sweet and kind from your really heart. (Sengkham)
Thank you very much for everything you have done for us, Everything you have helped me, they are always stay in the bottom of heart and your kindness will never go away from my heart ever. (Sampson)
Sabaidee mom, I miss you. When will you come back to lpb? How have you been doing? Hope everything goes well for you. I want to say happy birthday to you. If i were there i would do something for you, because I am far away from you. So i hope you are happy in life , hope you to stay in health and i hope that only good things come to you. With lots of love to you. (Lue)
Thank you for all the gifts, the clothes, the books and the school supplies and uniforms, shoes and phone and computer. Thank you for teaching us to breathe, yoga, about union and connection, about the heart and compassion and love. Everything is amazing to me. I praised and appreciate you and your help and teachin . I will never forget you. (Jer)