I sing the body electric
I’m dragging my sorry backside out of the bed I have spent too little time in. And why? Didn’t I book myself into this Moroccan styled spa retreat, heaven on a stick, escape from it all and lick my wounds type place precisely so I wouldn’t have to do this? What’s going on here?
The early morning is pure Bangkok. Standing at Asoke station looking down at the river of vehicles and people flowing underneath, I plug in and switch on. The energy of Bangkok is like a fix for happiness junkies. And I had gone cold turkey 8 months ago.
And it was because of her.
It was curiosity at first. I was a bit in love after seeing her demonstrate her moves. One minute she was all serious intellect sitting atop the mountain of knowledge and next she was swinging big sticks around. Hmm. Is it possible that we all have the potential for such divergence? What kind of mastery is required for this?
My friends and I spent a day learning basic self-defense from her Master, Kru Praeng. On meeting, he struck me as having a personality too big for his dainty form and I suppressed a little smirk. These martial arts types. Baggy pants and cult status. I’ve seen the movies too guys.
And then he moved. Well I didn’t actually see him move. I just saw the two guys on the ground and him on top of them, smiling. Ok. Listening now. What’s that he is saying about this being a way of thinking and feeling? Hold on, rewind! First she turns from Dewy decimal system type into stick wielding warrior and now he’s gone from action figure to Zen philosopher. Really people, I just came to learn how to kick some guy in the balls.
Fast-forward. 8 months later I am back at the scene of the shape shifting crime. Lured back you might say. By the Warrior and the Philosopher. And my own penchant for unsolved mysteries. Its Wai Kru day. Would I like the honour of observing the rituals for ‘respect the teacher’ day for Kru Praeng? It’s not a question, or really an invitation. It’s a test. A trap for the unwary.
So I stand waiting at Asoke. Weary and wary. And electric.
She arrives. Business as usual. Lethal weapons strapped on her back and afternoon tea in her bag. Beautifully radiant, smiling and dangerous. Are you ready? I pause. How quickly can I deconstruct the last 8 months, drop away the aggregate of pain and pride that forms my armour and turn with openness to the mystery of the ritual to come? Not quickly enough. I feel the prickle of tears. Great. Crying before we have even started.
The morning moves into lunch which moves into afternoon. Seamlessly, timelessly, the art of doing without pontificating and puffing. I just watch, I practice breathing in and out. Goodness knows I have to get a grip on that. I nearly forgot how earlier. They stretch and warm up, test a few moves, talk shop. I breathe.
Kru Praeng arrives and I am shamed at the memory of my smirk. His eyes smile before his mouth moves and he nods at me. How on earth did I miss this last time? If I am electric, he is nuclear and there are the light years of many lives between us. Breathe.
Imperceptibly I am adjusted for. The weary and wary woman is graciously accommodated. Someone gives up their seat in the car, someone moves their bag over, someone offers to walk with me to the shop, someone turns and looks with enquiring eyes, are you ok? and someone has a word to someone about me being there. It’s never about me; it’s about the porous notion of family and the generosity that comes from kinship. I am here, so I must belong.
The scene is set for mystery and enchantment. In the dusky light novitiates are led blindfolded through a series of challenges only to find their way, in the end, to the quiet seated form of Kru Praeng. Here, today, all paths lead to him. He is here to be honoured, to teach, to affirm and to question. It is his light that people have gathered to see shining. And it does. Brightly.
By the next morning I feel everyone’s electricity has been switched on. Preparing inwardly for the day ahead, Kru Praengs students are busy preparing the symbolic space and calming themselves. Today some of them will be tested. Not just on the purity of their forms but also on the shape of their hearts. I breathe deeply for now I have found myself walking a well-trodden path. I understand this test.
The day is marked for me by synapse snaps. To see this traditional art form being used as a living meditation, a life ballet and a metaphor for our own anguishing existential struggle, I feel it is I who has been led blindfolded to the feet of the Master. I’m seeing. From the inside.
She is tireless. All alert eyes and ready body. And open heart. The day is full of tests and she undertakes each one with the sharpness of her intellect and the fullness of her heart. And I realise it’s not divergence at all. It’s completeness. This is about the quest for wholeness.
I start to think about what it is she means about the bruising. Today, on the inside, I’m bleeding. It’s the wounding that comes from picking the scab of your spirit and allowing the magnitude of all the stuff you don’t know to settle in. To find a home. To remind you to breathe and pull you towards your own, unknown self.
As it started, the weekend draws to a close gently, timelessly, gracefully. Kru Praeng spends precious but unhurried moments speaking quietly and earnestly to his last few students. They sit with the absolute stillness that comes from complete exhaustion and the composure of self-knowledge. I can’t drag my eyes away and yet feel its ok to watch, like a divinity play I chanced upon. Whatever he is telling them is important. It’s the gift for their devotion.
Later bidding him farewell he sits relaxed now, he must have the weariness of Atlas upon him, but it’s indiscernible. Those eyes smile at me again. I’m family now. I’m welcome back.
It’s dark by the time I return to the Moroccan styled spa. I’m seeing things differently in the evening light. I pick up my bags and check out. I don’t need to retreat anymore.