Staying on that tight busy St. 278 in Boeung Keng Kang that is lined with all the "Goldens" -- Bridge, Apartel, Sunrise hotels. I'm on the 6th floor walk up of apartel with a dark entry hall. There’s construction during the day, but in the evenings, nearby Wat Langka’s tall spires glitter gold. A cool undusty breeze wafts through the screenless windows; there are no mosquitoes.
I learn there is a new Kundalini yoga center somewhere in Boeung Keng Kang. My favorite yoga, so I wake at 5:30 to set out in search of it. Where is it? There's no signage. On cue, slight Khmer woman motos up, nods shyly, unlocks door, and & invites me up. The sadhana is on the covered roof. I take my place on a bamboo mat along with four young Khmer, An older Dutch woman, whose name is Helga, is leading breathing exercises. They are all dressed in white, with white kerchiefs. For Khmer, white usually means mourning.
Simple and difficult, this breath of fire, arms over the head, energizing the prana and the third eye. Helga's sadhana talk is simple: "you are precious because of who you are, not necessarily what you do. Listen for your destiny and it will come to you." I’m too old to have a destiny, but I like the idea. "Examine your body," she says, "send it all blessing equally, to observe the events of our life, good and bad, equally. " That is harder than breath of fire. At the end of the exercises, Helga instructs us to fill in the blanks: 'I am here to be __ in order to ____... Consider this with your whole being." It seems a little schoolgirlish, but I give it my best shot. Blank. I try again. Imagine breakfast. Finally, with more of a sense than any words: I'm here to be human. In order to, what? Blank again, then, vaguely, ‘’Give yourself to love, love is what you’re after.” But I hear “purify the earth." What does that mean? We end with the lotus mudra at our heart, and I feel this gorgeous experience of a blooming lotus, that all of us are flowers of exquisite light. Feeling bliss, an odd state for Phnom Penh.
Helga invites us to yogi tea in the downstairs kitchen. How can I say no? I was longing for chai. She takes off her white kerchief, and her thin hair falls past her waist. She has a lined tired face. She was just shining on the mat before us. Helga and her husband worked in development NGOs, traveling back and forth to Cambodia since 1990. After all those development fiascos, they decided to "focus on the individual." Her lovely Khmer students are also kundalini teachers at a kundalini program for kids in the Phnom Penh slums.
I stop for some kieutiew, breakfast noodle soup, enroute way to the office. It's almost 8am and already heating up. Chona and I get to the early morning Kundalini sadhana a few more times. Has the kundalini unlocked some portal, or is my apartel on some cosmic flight path? I'm churning with dreams.
My next time in Phnom Penh, I visit the Kundalini center. Where's Helga? She is dead, they say. The Khmer teacher of our morning sadhana class explains calmly, "She suffered a massive stroke in Bangkok." I'm not sure why it shakes me so.
I recall the light sweet air of my first morning here, and wonder what she answered to “I am here to be __ in order to ____". No doubt our answers change, but our life's goal might be whatever we answer last.