Sometimes it’s dark before I reach the lake; the street lights are still on, and I have to brake for the occasional trishaw or fruit vender with mangos balanced high on a basket on her head. By the time I’m out on the wooden pier, the sky has started to turn the dusky blue color- the color between midnight and dawn; a few stars and a planet still wink. I do my stretches in silhouette to the sound of the men and women’s National Rowing Team doing their al fresco rowing exercises (whish, whish, whish) on the manual rowing machines closer to the club. Lately, though, the days are longer, and by the time I reach the rowing club, the sun is almost up. I always check to see if this spirit house (built to honor the spirit of a three-story high banyan tree), has fresh flowers, laurel, and incense. It always does.
If I had to pick one, singular thing that keeps me sane in this city Somewhere in Asia, I would choose my early-morning habit of sculling. The silence of the dawn, the green carpet of vines that cover the island trees, the birds that flit around the palm trees on the shores, and the drip-drip of water off the oars take me to a place outside my monkey mind to a place of peace. I row past the dike where young monks in their saffron robes sit on benches and morning stretchers practice the “Salutation to the Sun.” After I row, I’m as centered and focused as if I’ve just finished a full day of vipassana meditation.
Water Buddha, who helps train the national team, has taught me this sport. For the past year and a half he’s been rowing with me every other the morning. We rarely talk, especially when we’re out on the water, dropping the oars into the lake and pulling back in unison. Silently, we move across the lake, skimming like a four-legged spider or a graceful insect, making but a ripple in the water. An exotic bird with shimmering blue feathers and a long beak sits on one of the electrical wires that are strung between two of the many, guarded islands. He is has been there every morning for as long as I remember. His presence is comforting.
The monsoon rains are late this year, and we’re all hoping they come soon to relieve us of this 100 + degree weather. Once they arrive, my morning sculling routine will have to end for the season. Until I find another way to feed my soul, I’ll continue to light incense and bring flowers to my own spirit house.