I opened my eyes at three o’clock in the morning as the temple bell tower sounded: I always woke at the same time. I no longer required the gong to wake me; rather I simply used it as a prompt to bring me from sleep back into awareness, into the present moment. I sat up, arched my back and rotated my neck; then slowly ran my right hand over my shaved head, feeling its texture and shape.
Next I put my hands to the floor, lifted my knees to the ground and leant forward on the hard mat I slept on, stretching my spine like a cat that has just woken from a deep sleep. I noted the silence, then pulled back the blind of the umbrella-tent and looked out onto the forest, still dark, a black canopy of tropical evergreen.
I reached for the lantern, lit it and watched the flame burn, its orange dance different every morning. Next I carefully extended my right leg, feeling it straighten and tense, until it was outside the tent, then leant forward and ducked my head underneath the blind, allowing my whole body to curve and follow like the passage of a swan’s neck after it has finished grooming and lengthens itself once more, this movement so smooth and graceful, my whole body aligning itself as I brought my left leg parallel with my right.
Standing upright I felt the dirt and leaves underfoot, their texture and dampness. I held the lantern aloft and made my way down to the lake, noting every step, feeling the movement of my long arms and legs and the brush of wild orchids against my ankles and shins, and when I reached the water’s edge I crouched down, sitting on my heels, and set the lantern beside me, which illuminated a small cluster of lotus flowers that added color to the dark murky green of the lake.
I placed my hands on the water’s surface, skimmed the tips of my fingers across it, then moved them in a circular motion – my fingers seeming to dance on water like a water strider – the water swirling then rippling. When I submerged my hands I heard the water swish and as I cupped my hands together and threw water in my face I heard it splash.
This moment always gave me pleasure, the commencement of morning ablutions; the first touch of cool water on my skin like morning dew on a blade of grass. I felt it on my forehead, my eyelids, my cheeks, my jaw – the steady trickle of water down my face; this face of mine which was uncommon amongst my people, long and narrow rather than round and flat, and that was typified by my nose which according to Sunnato appeared almost Roman at a certain angle rather than Thai…
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