An incomparable spiritual feeling
Many years ago, when I was still living in Russia, I saw a stunningly beautiful photograph in a travel magazine. Thousands of large, snow-white lanterns with a brightly burning fire inside were flying in the evening sky towards a huge, full moon.
This image enchanted me. I read that this celebration is held once a year in northern Thailand in the city of Chiang Mai on the twelfth full moon of the year.
I was in Siberia; a bitter wind was blowing through my home town of Irkutsk. Scraps of old newspaper tumbled down the deserted streets.
The thought of sending a lantern into the sky in far away Thailand awakened some unknown part of me, and the longing to go there washed through me in a wave.
I promised myself that one day I would launch my own lantern into the sky.
On November 11 this year, we arrived in Chiang Mai for the festival of Loy Krathong. It was the night of the lanterns.
On this evening at the end of the rainy season, northern Thailand awakes from a dream of misty slumber.
The distant green mountains shimmer in happiness as the verdant jungle feels the touch of the tropical sun.
The air is clear and dry and the moon rises; an ivory orb in the blue-black sky of twilight.
Through the winding streets of the ancient city of Chiang Mai flow crowds intent on a single destination: the banks of the Ping River which meanders languidly through the heart of the city.
When night falls, people of all ages gather on the gently sloping shore under the bridges spanning the Ping.
In addition to the rice paper lanterns, the Thai people make — by hand — exquisite little rafts called “krathongs”.
Woven from banana leaves, they are decorated with roses, lotus, orchids and marigolds.
In the centre nestles a small candle and two sticks of incense.
I made mine under the patient and gentle guidance of several pretty young Thai girls, and set it adrift among the soft glow of thousands of others.
It was instantly taken by the current and mixed with countless other tiny candles bobbing gently on the dark water.
On the bridges above us, people were holding white lanterns made of rice paper.
For the lantern to take off and fly, you need to set fire to a small circle of resin attached to the bottom and wait for a few minutes until the lantern is filled with hot air.
It is an incomparable feeling when the lantern begins to vibrate in your hands as if alive and asks to break away and sail upwards.
When I let go, I whisper a cherished desire for the new year ahead.
Thai people believe that the lanterns carry away all the negativity and hardship of the past twelve months and that if you do good deeds in the coming year, the wishes that you make as you set the lantern free will come true.
Bill launches his lantern before me. Then I let go of mine.
We watch their flight and, incredibly, hundreds of feet above us, they come together.
We watch in amazement as they soar side by side.
The sky is dark as ink and scattered everywhere are thousands of softly glowing lights, all on their separate journeys yet moving together.
Each represents a dream, a wish, a hope. Each is individual and personal and mysterious.
Everywhere I gaze there are points of light travelling into the night sky.
I cry softly as I feel the presence of all those dreams travelling bravely through that darkness.
I realise that we are all frail lanterns filled with light and dreams and wishes and hopes, each on our journey through this awesome universe, alone and yet together, all headed in the same direction, all fated to disappear into a future we cannot see.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com</i>
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