As I rode through downtown Yangon in the back of a taxi the sky was starting to light up every shade of coral. I felt a little bit disheartened that I’d woken up ninety minutes earlier yet had still somehow managed to miss that magical moment when the sun pierces the nights sky and a new day is born.
I paid my 3000 Kyats to the taxi driver, handed over my completely impractical fluffy pumps in at the counter of the South Gate and started my barefoot climb.
As my naked feet hurriedly slapped down onto the cool steps, my eyes were entertained by the high teak ceiling, the huge mottled pink marble arches and the Buddhist paintings hanging on either side. I walked up and up and up, nearly got my eyes taken out by a mob of women aggressively shoving floral offerings in my face, skipped through security and up to the ticket office.
As soon as I gave the man my 10,000 Kyat and walked out into Shwedagon Pagoda, I realised it wasn’t about watching the sunrise at all.
I spun around in circles slowly, arms out and jaw wide just awestruck at what was around me. It was a Disneyland for Monks.
Stupas and pagodas everywhere – bright white and glittering gold. My eyes were blinded. Monks in their ochres, Nuns in their pinks and mini monks everywhere obediently chanting out their mantras. All the visitors were wearing their Burmese Best and I had front row seats to their catwalk show on the path that circled around the temple.
The first temple I saw drew me in with it’s old rusty gold, Aladdin-style magic carpet and tall Buddha at the altar. Everybody was kneeling and uttering their prayers. I sat on the rug, crossed my legs, put my hands into Samadhi mudra position with my right over my left, palms facing up and thumbs touching, then I closed my eyes.
Every voice around me could be heard as a solo and as part of the warbling chorus. I was hoping their rhythmic recitals would send me into a meditative trance but my mind whizzed around in circles and I was far to excited to sit still or think still.
I sat there listening to the hums and teeth chattering of nearby worshippers, the deep inhalations and the sweet smells of incense, thoroughly enjoying my inability to meditate and after fifteen minutes of fidgeting, headed off to see the amusements.
DISNEYLAND FOR MONKS
Every footstep around the Shwedagon Pagoda was wow. Every glance was wow. Every inhalation was just wow.
My eyes were drawn towards a particular Buddha statue. It was the Shakyamuni Buddha, the one with red lips that are almost smiling, cross-legged with left hand on the lap with palm facing upwards and the right arm down with hand connected to the floor. It represents a tale of earth bearing witness to victory over temptation.
The golden orb at the top of the stupa, encrusted with four thousand diamonds, was twinkling in the pink sunrise like the most beauty-full disco ball you’ve ever seen. People walked around it in a clockwise direction with brooms, brushing the floor as they walked to gain merit.
Monks, nuns and visitors stood before the enchanted castle, lighting candles, placing offerings and burning incense. They sat on the floor cross-legged or kneeling, reading out prayers from booklets or their phones, some held on to prayer beads and others bowed their heads with respect.
Just like in Bogyoke Market, it was the mini nuns that made everything so special for me. I found a spot on the white marble floor in front of them to watch.
The choir master wore Stevie Wonder sunglasses and a stern face, muttering out her instructions to the five of nuns who were respectfully rehearsing. But my favourites were the two adorable little pink balls of mischief at the front. They must have been about five or six years old and were playing, tormenting each other, yawning, stretching and giggling – anything to get out of practice.
I swivelled around on the white marble floor to face the golden temple and listened as they sang me into a trance.
Bells were chiming out, flags were flapping in the wind and their little voices didn’t stop. I could hear the humming, the chanting, the chattering, the footsteps, the brooms sweeping the floor. It was all so magnificently intense then all of a sudden fell silent.
I meditated for the first time in weeks without the help of some sort of app or guide. I focused on nothing but breathing in and out, expanding the stomach, then the rib cage, then the chest.
I managed to get to that state where my mind goes blank, where I’m blinded by an internal white light and where I can see a dot in the centre of my inner vision.
Normally, I see yellow but today it was green, which if you’re a believer, means your heart chakra is being rejuvenated and renewed. So it looks like it’s not just smog and crows that fill the skies of Yangon, love is in the air too.