Friday, March 26, 2010

Dragon Fire Festival

Hello Writers Rising!
My name is Lynne Walker, and I'm a new contributor, invited by Katherine Jenkins, one of my fellow writers in our Seattle writing group. I'm interested in all kinds of writing, from fiction to non-fiction, including journalism. So I thought I'd start by posting a short travel piece about an unexplained mystery in Thailand. I've been catching up on what you've been writing, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog postings in the days ahead.

The Dragon Fire Festival
The full moon often scalds the Thai landscape with strange surprises, and I find myself holding my breath to see what crawls from the shadows. Who is this emerging from the fields at this dead hour of the night? What is that strange shriek, in a place where no shriek ever has an innocent explanation? I have become a believer--the countryside is riddled with ghosts. And in a small town not too far away, dragon fire erupts from the Mekong River, but only in October, and only when the moon is full.
The fire-breathing dragon apparently spends the entire year resting on the bottom of the Mekong and emerges just once, to show off, on the banks of the chosen town of Phon Phisai. Thousands of locals turn out to wait for the dragon’s breath to rise from the Mekong River. Pink lights burst out of the river on this one night and arc silently into the sky. The town celebrates the dragon’s spectacular display with Bung Fai Payanak (บั้งไฟพญานาค) or the Dragon Fire Festival. The Dragon Fire Parade drums its way down Main Street during the day, and at night a river parade of lighted bamboo floats glides past, to keep the dragon company. This legendary spirit, which some say shielded the Buddha from the rain and sun while he meditated, stirs to life each year at the end of the Buddhist Lent, breathing celebratory fireballs into the sky.
When we arrived in Phon Phisai in the afternoon, the boardwalk along the river was already bustling with people. Vendors hawked dried squid, speckled bird eggs, cotton candy, balloons, grilled chicken, soccer-sized grapefruit, roasted bananas, beer and soda. Wooden boats dotted the tranquil waters of the Mekong, and opposite us shone the lush green coast of Laos.
After eating, we staked out a spot to sit on the riverbanks, and at dusk we heard a piercing whistle. Was it the sound of the dragon rising from the murky Mekong to breathe fire into the sky? No—it was only the introductory fireworks for the evening. In fact, the entire evening was filled with fireworks, from start to finish—enough to frighten any lurking dragon away. Once it was dark, the river parade of floats began (this also can be viewed in Nong Khai). White lights, and in some cases dozens of candles, covered bamboo structures designed to look like ancient Oriental sailing ships and other marvels. Vendors moved through the packed crowd selling noisemakers and coiled dragon puppets with red battery-powered eyes. Paper lanterns drifted higher and higher into the night until their fiery glow vanished. To add to the mystery, the electricity powering the vendors’ stalls along the river kept going off throughout the evening.
I asked one Thai woman if she “believed” in the dragon fire we all were waiting to see.
“I believe,” she said cautiously, and then cracked a sheepish smile.
A group of Thai schoolgirls handed me a survey in English. Do you believe it’s a spirit? the survey asked. Do you think it’s fireworks? Natural gas? Do you think it should be researched?
“By all means, research it,” I agreed.
An excited roar suddenly rippled through the crowd. People stretched and craned their necks to see.
“Mai mee arai,” people murmured all around me in Thai. “Nothing, it was nothing.”
“Do you believe?” a Thai woman inquired, turning the tables on me.
“When I see it, I’ll believe it,” I replied, and everyone around me burst out laughing.
It was wall-to-wall people and a spirited roar swept through the crowd every time a light—any light at all—feebly flickered. A deep rumble began to grow as the crowd pointed and shouted. At last, I saw it—small red lights, arcing into the air like emergency flares or Roman candles, minus sparks or smoke or sound. I zeroed in on a tall American with a camera.
“Oh, sure, I believe,” he said enthusiastically. “It’s definitely something.”
But why were the searchlights from a motorboat in exactly the spot where a pink light had erupted a moment before?
“Police inspectors,” one local told me. “They are making sure no one else is out there. They are inspecting for fraud.”
This quirky detail-- inspectors in motorboats racing about to certify the dragon fire-- seemed completely in keeping with the good-natured spirit of this festival which celebrates an authentic Thai mystery. (posted in greater detail on my blog Strange Islands)

An Open Letter to Little People (Mine Specifically)

by Kristin Brumm (kbxmas)

I was reading one of those stories in the news the other day that I would have glossed over in the past but now that I'm a parent take on a whole new meaning. You know the ones I'm talking about. A man or woman is killed in some freak accident and as you skim the story you find out he/she had young children at home. Shudder the thought.

It got me to think what would happen if I were to meet with unfortunate design and merge with eternity while my kids were still at a tender age. If one were to ask them years down the road what wisdom they had learned at my knee that helped shepherd them into adulthood, they probably would have to give it a hard think and then come up with such as this: “clean your nails, good god”, “lean over your plate so you don't get crumbs in your lap” and “brush now or else.”

It occurred to me that I almost never tell them anything of consequence. Not that kids learn by being told, of course. But in case they ever learn by reading, I thought I'd collect my collective wisdom and put it in once place so that I would have it all ready in the event of my untimely demise or (more likely) untimely institutionalization or (most likely) our children's ability to swiftly disable the parental controls on the computer and discover my blog. Ergo,

An Open Letter to Little People (mine, specifically)

From where you sit now life may seem fairly simple and straightforward and in many respects it is. But as you lean towards adulthood you'll no doubt try to complicate it, because that's what we all do.

For instance, as you grow up you will have many friends who will all have different ideas of what is required to be adored by others. Because you are human, you will for a time play the game of trying to morph yourself into these different ideals. It is my hope that sooner, rather than later, you will learn that the quality which others most respect and find attractive is authenticity, the irony being that once you discover this you will no longer care much what others think.

Many things will seem wildly important to you at different times in your life. But here's something that really is. Find the one thing in life that makes your heart sing and do it and never stop doing it, even if it makes your father and me weep into our pillows at night. We'll get over it.

A well-paying job is lovely. A home is lovely. But before you chase that kind of stability, get out and see the world. One cannot purchase the perspective of life as viewed from beneath a worn rucksack on a lost bit of track somewhere in the Peruvian Andes.

If you're unsure whether or not you should say it, and...
  • you're really angry
  • in a business meeting
  • have had a few too many
  • are talking to an attractive man/woman who's not your significant other
  • are in a chat room
  • are being evaluated for a raise
  • are about to hit reply to all
you probably shouldn't.

If you're unsure whether or not you should say it, and...
  • you're feeling hurt
  • are feeling centered
  • are in therapy
  • are talking to your parents
  • are hooked up to a lie detector test
  • the man/woman of your dreams is about to walk out the door
you probably should.

Things that are a bad idea:
  •  Credit cards for college students
  •  Credit cards in general (unless you pay them off every month)
  •  Thinking, eh, you're okay to drive
  •  Unprotected sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend because my god you love him/her so much and besides, you know it's a safe time of the month
  •  Unprotected sex in general
  •  Drugs, legal or otherwise, prescription or street, your parents' or yours or anyone else's
  •  Owning a firearm (unless you live in the Yukon and need to take down a caribou for your dinner, what the hell are you thinking?)
  •  Tattoos that spell things out
  •  Martyrdom
  •  Whining
  •  Playing the victim
  •  You get the picture

 Things that are a good idea:
  • A degree in the liberal arts (if you really want to go into business get an MBA, but for undergrad go liberal arts; you'll be a better person for it and you will absolutely get a job)
  • Condoms (yes, harp harp)
  • Being the first to apologize -- contrary to popular belief, it takes a bigger person
  • Laughing at yourself
  • Turning off the TV and reading. Lots.
  • Speaking your truth
  • Over and over and over, even when it hurts
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Love over gold
  • Anna, take your calcium

And always, always, you are loved.

That should do for now.

Kristin Brumm writes at Wanderlust

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Acceptance in the moment

Being present is a beginning in living in the now but how one feels in the moment is important to note. Can you reach acceptance in the present moment? How do you feel when you slow down your breathing, still your thoughts, and focus your mind? If you are having a difficult time achieving the bliss and peace so many describe in celebration of each and every moment, see if you can at least reach acceptance.

Acceptance is a beginning. Can you reach a point in every moment of your life, when you stop to focus and really pay attention in the moment, of at least accepting your reality in that moment?

See if you can at least achieve acceptance, not anything else, no emotion, no value judgment of whether it’s a good or bad moment. Just try acceptance in your reality in existence in any given moment, even in those moments where there may be something challenging.
Everyone has to start somewhere.


Introducing Myself

Hail Fellow Writers Rising! My name is Deborah Clarke-Blome, and I am very happy to finally join this wonderful blog at the invitation of my friend, writing group partner, and yoga buddy, Kathy Jenkins. I am an English as a Second Language teacher, mother of a beautiful 11-year old boy, and partner in a very long-term relationship (which is either the same relationship with three or four different people or several different relationships with the same person). I spent the first fifteen years of my life living in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Taiwan with a year or two in between in Pennsylvania and Virginia. About every third summer my family would return to the U.S. and I would catch up on American culture--mostly by watching TV--which we had sparse access to overseas. Although as a child I pined for life in America, I truly treasure my multi-cultural past. In particular, I am grateful for my experiences living in Bangkok in the early 1960’s. Bangkok is my aesthetic root: my imagination was born there and will be forever stamped by the sights, sounds, colors and smells of life in the tropics. I’m still interested in travel, but right now I’m settled in Seattle, WA, giving my son the kind of stable, neighborhood-based childhood that I never had. In different periods of my life I’ve worked on writing fiction, short essays and memoir but have never tried to publish anything. This year I decided to make an effort to be read by others outside my circle of friends.

Cosmic Symphony

Ages ago, a Facebook friend encouraged me to write a blog post about online friendships. I tucked that thought away with intentions of revisiting it when the timing was right. Since then, I have read many blog posts of fellow blog authors discussing this same concept. My own interpretation of this phenomenon is uniquely mine and may stray further from the basic premise than you might expect at first glance.

I look deeply into everything...people, occurrences, music, art, unusual happenings, those breathtaking moments that, should we not take care and choose to look more deeply, we might miss, they're so fleeting. I have been pondering this online gathering of people, looking at it from every angle, nudging with the occasional inquisitive touch, smiling in recognition often and seeing a stunning, crystalline mirrored reflection of strong purpose in the eddying waves that ripple outward from my fingertips.

Each of us is a pebble of sorts in the vast depths of the pools of Facebook and Twitter and whatever new social media forums may be birthed in the future. The strata of social media, once thought to be a flash in the pan fad that would quickly reach its zenith and die a quiet death, has become so richly and deeply layered that I do believe it is time for us to admit it is here to stay. We as a country and indeed, as a world, have embraced Facebook and Twitter to such farflung lengths that most of us are able to claim friendships with wonderful people on practically every continent. I am certainly in this group.

It delights me, this ability that I have to connect with people the world over. And it is this very happenstance that causes me to stop and, as I am wont to do, ponder deeply. I am of the opinion that with this astonishing bandwidth of internet presence, combined with a wide range of social media forums, the world is perhaps as small as it has ever humanly been possible in history to achieve. In mere seconds, we can communicate with someone on the opposite side of the world. The words flash so quickly on our screen that it negates the need to even pick up a phone to communicate.

As I ponder, my mind thinks that perhaps those who dreamed up the concepts of Facebook and Twitter were led by a Higher Power to create a communication device that would, in effect, connect us to those we might never have the chance to meet otherwise. Even here in the U.S., where travel is quite a simple thing to achieve, there are friendships I have developed - valued ones that I cherish - with people that I simply would never have had a chance to stumble across if I had been searching for them somewhere out there in the world on a face to face basis. Yet, in a very purposeful manner, I have been guided with gentle purpose to meet these different people.

Those of like mind, who "speak my language" with such sureness and clarity that it warms me to the very center of my being have cropped up in seemingly random connections or conversation threads....and the blinding, heart-stoppingly beautiful moment of friendship occurs. A remembrance of sorts...that, "Oh, there you are! I've been waiting for you!" kind of recognition that sparkles and shines so brightly that I imagine delicate, yet enduring ethereal threads stretch across the planet to reconnect us. Some of you will read this and nod, immediately grasping my message. Others will find this content to be another whimsical dance out there on the edge of what you find yourself capable or willing to embrace. It matters not how you perceive my words here.

What matters most to me is that I am alive to experience this, and these relationships. The richness of some of the connections, defying all odds to explain many of them, are so powerful that at times I am simply in awe of the gift. Yet, part of me realizes that these happenings are of dynamic design. I have an inner knowing that I will, at some point in the not too distant future, see some of these people, these remembered loves, face to face. I feel a very strong sense of destiny entertwined in these friendships.

A Twitter conversation recently with a remembered friend of my very heart spoke of this very thing....the threads of friendship as they weave across the Cosmos. This dear friend mentioned feeling that Spirit presents a kind of grid for us to interconnect, and I agree with this mindset. There is a curious kind of precision, an almost mathematical dance that is taking place in my life with many of these friendships. I have created several Facebook groups and fan pages where individual groups of people are connecting, and here again, I am forced to stop and ponder the why of this. I have always recognized myself as a facillitator of many things spiritually and energetically related, and it appears that this tendency is making itself known in the cyberworld as well as in everyday Life. Mystical teachings call these patterns Sacred Geometry, shamanistic designs that open the mind and Spirit up to higher levels of energy and learning.

I see all of this trickling down to what many would call a very mundane manifestation in social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter. The beauty and sheer mystery of the connections do not lose a single ounce of unique energy simply because they come together in the flashpoint of social media communication. Indeed, I think that highlights the beauty of it all....and it transports my Soul to recognize it for what I believe it to be....another pathway to connect with those my heart and Spirit recognize far before I am physically able to set eyes on these people.

In my mind's eye, at times I see it all taking place as an elegant, very controlled waltz, with each set carefully placed on a ballroom dance floor of neverending proportions. At other times, I hear a wild Irish jig that wails and spins in a frenzy of fiddles and drums, firing each Soul to flash and fly hither and yon, sparking bright connections with such a rapid pace that the human eye and mind simply cannot comprehend. And then it all coalesces into a physical manifestation of keyboard strokes, mouse clicks, smart phone and laptop screens. I see fine points of light marking each individual Soul, streaking outward leaving a trail of light that interconnects in intricate Mandala-esque patterns. I cannot imagine that this dance is without musical accompaniment. Would that our human ears could actually hear that mystical manifestation that we produce as we whirl throughout this cosmic dance.

We seek, through the medium of art, to create physical interpretations of mathematical and geometric patterns. Mandalas, such as those found in the Buddhist faith, show beautiful, entertwining circles and lyrically flowing curves and loops, depicting what has become an often quoted "circle of life" work of art. I have often thought that these artists' renderings might be our Higher Mind tapping into that Universal Consciousness and creating on canvas and paper, in metal, marble and wood, physical manifestations of experiences remembered by our Souls.

Whatever the inspiration, whatever the Divine purpose behind all of this worldwide connecting of people via social media, I am convinced there is a stronger, deeper purpose at hand than mere entertainment. From a One World perspective, social media is allowing us as a collective people, to cross boundaries and socio-economic barriers via the internet and find ways to communicate and understand one another in a manner that has never been possible in history before. That, in and of itself, is mind boggling when you think about it. The great minds of our modern age spoke eloquently about embracing one another on a loving plane that eschews those barriers and labels. Perhaps social media is yet another stripping away of needless layers allowing us to simply be ourselves and communicate for the simple joy of connecting.

As I warned in the first paragraph of this blog article, I have strayed quite far afield from my Facebook friend's suggestion to blog about "Facebook friends who haven't ever met face to face". I could have simply written a light-hearted post about that fun aspect of social media. I chose, instead, to plumb the depths of esoteric concepts....well, perhaps not the really deep depths, but my own ruminations of how they apply to social media. If you're still with me as I bring these thoughts to a close, you most likely are one of two things - you are a true friend who loves me despite not always "getting" what the heck I'm rambling on about (and if so, I love you in return, more than you can imagine), or you are a friend remembered who "gets" the concepts I am spinning across the page here.

Either way, you have engaged in this journey with me and we have produced another cosmic symphony of sorts, as our combined energies stepped across a crowded ballroom floor. As any proper southern lady would do, I curtsy and spread my skirts in thanks for a lovely moment spent together and cast you a genuine smile as the band strikes up another tune....and the dance continues.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.