Frieda was here two years ago. She was the first one of a bunch who told me about this place and said I would fall in love with it. And when someone you love and adore tells you to go somewhere they know you will fall for, you have absolutely no choice but to go.
After a enchantingly surreal week of exploring ancient ruins and reuniting with friends in Siem Reap, I took off for six days and went “off-the-grid” in a yoga & meditation retreat nestled in a farming village, in the ancient capital of Cambodia called Hariharalaya.
This place was created to bring people back to the conscious womb, to nature, to balance, to simple living. There is no wifi, there is one desktop with internet but I chose not to use it. This is a time for technology detoxification and I needed it badly. My mind was already quieter by just being here, the center is so peaceful and the location couldn’t be anymore perfect. I had a bungalow to myself in our little neighborhood of bamboo huts, with a hammock I would melt my body in and as I watched the sun paint the world gold.
Every morning we were awoken by gong bells to start the morning with meditation and yoga. We were reminded of mindfulness and silence before entering the yoga hut, a conscious intention that would prepare us for the days to come.
Our beautiful little bungalow neighborhood full of little creatures including the hilariously territorial geese. I made a gecko friend and named him Papi, who wards mosquitoes off at night and keeps me company in my lovely little home.
The retreat included an art studio, a music room, free bicycles, an open-air gym (with a trampoline, slack line, and fitness equipment), a pool, treehouse, outdoor hammocks, outdoor showers, meditation huts, a little library with an amazing book selection, and a “detox” room where you can unwind with a book or nap and tons of other lovely things.
Everyday we would fill our bellies with organic vegan meals. From their hummus, curries, to the majestic vegan chocolate cake, our tongues and bellies were in ecstasy and I had seconds each meal.
I started meditating a few years ago. Whatever I say about it can never truly do justice to how much it changed my life. I’ve had meditations when I would cry out of so much gratitude, I’ve had meditations when I would just stare at the ocean or gaze at the stars with enough wonder to keep the thoughts out, I’ve had deep out-of-body meditations of pure bliss that no words formed could ever describe, and I’ve had meditations when the mind chatter just wouldn’t stop.
I’ve never done a meditation retreat before, this is my first one. A lot surfaced during my meditations at Hariharalaya, I realized how I would sometimes get disappointed in myself when I don’t have a “good” meditation, when it’s harder for me to silence my mind. But through Joel’s inspiring teachings, something settled in me. I realized that I shouldn’t be classifying a “bad” or “good” meditation. That every time I sit in meditation, I should thank myself and the universe for it no matter how it went. If it’s a mind-blowing blissful session or if it’s non-stop mind babbling. No matter what I experience through meditation, I should just be aware of it and not identify it through attachments and expectations. Meditation is always “good” because each time we try is another peeled layer that brings us closer to the inner self.
When we were having one of our dinners, I asked Joel if he had any “tips” for Vipassana. A silent meditation course that I will take in Asia that involves doing absolutely nothing but meditating for over a 100 hours for 10 days. There is no talking, no eye contact, no technology, no writing, no yoga, no sex or masturbation, no drugs, no alcohol, no sugar, basically anything that can stimulate your mind is taken away from you. He thinks for a bit and says to me, “There are no tips, really. It’s a mindfuck. It’s just like jumping off a cliff into a body water, you just have to do it. ”
I realized then that nothing could ever prepare me for Vipassana. Not even this magical retreat. Just the notion that for the first time in my life I will not be able to speak or escape my mind for at least 10 days is intimidating, scary, intriguing and exciting all at the same time. Which is exactly why I know deep down, I need to do it.
The night Joel did a full moon meditation ceremony with us full of chanting and incantations.
One night the locals and Khmer staff played their instruments and started dancing. After I finished my bowl of dessert I instantly jump in and we dance around merrily in a circle.
We were high on life, some majestic chocolate vegan cake and a full moon.
Sean, the manager, who just so happens to be a mind-blowing magician put on a magic show for us on our last night and turned the room into a space of laughter, anticipation, and amazement.
A couple days I would hop on a charmingly life-worn bicycle and explore around the peaceful little fisherman village and the ancient temple grounds. My lovely Finnish friend, Suvi and I rode around together one day and each local we saw would wave and say hi to us, children would chase after us, smiling and beaming with light.
This place helped me regain balance. Which is just what I needed in my world of constant motion. It’s important to be smack in between motion and stillness. To keep my roots grounded and still be able to sway back and forth with graceful fluidity, and to remain steadfast in this beautifully shaky world.
Special thanks to Sean, Joel, and the rest of the incredible staff of Hariharalaya for sharing their beautiful light and space. If you are looking for a yoga & meditation retreat in Cambodia, this is the place to go. You will love every bit of it.