The Killing Fields of Cambodia


Yesterday I visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In 1975 after Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia, his army the Khmer Rouge, entered Phnom Penh and evacuated the city. And I mean the whole capital of Cambodia, sending people out to the fields for a “reeducation” in living a simple agrarian lifestyle. The professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, basically anyone that was a professional or had any iota of education was executed. And their whole family was then executed.

This was the story throughout this beautiful country of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. In all, over 2 million people killed from torture, executions, or starvation. A whole generation of professionals wiped out in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century while the world watched and did nothing.

I sat on the bus from Siem Reap speaking to an Cambodian lady who lived through that time. She was forced out of Phnom Phen with her family when she was six. Her family escaped the Khmer Rouge and lived in the forest for three years eating bugs, plants, anything that was edible. Then she lived in refuge camps for many years after that before moving to Australia. She could not speak without tears in her eyes.

Cheong Ek, one of the largest killing fields, had 86 mass graves and 9,000 bodies found. So what do you do in such a sombering location like this?

Something that we practice every Saturday…I meditated under a flowering Jasmine tree.

In fact in this land of the Buddha, I am meditating every day. Sitting quietly in Temples which are everywhere. Sitting under trees. Sitting in my hotel rooms. Trying to calm my mind.

Coming from the hectic Los Angeles lifestyle of commuting, frenzied work, teaching, coaching, writing, building a business, I had so many things on my mind starting this trip. Whizzing by at a million miles an hour.

Meditation was very difficult and still is difficult. But its getting better. This morning I sat in the Buddhist temple Wat Phnom, built on a site where four Buddhas where found left by the river. A temple with 700 years of meditation inside. And closed my eyes and felt what I teach in yoga, the sweetness of my breath.

Not forcing it, just feeling my breathing breath me. Slowing down. Turning inwards.

So yesterday, I sat meditating next to the mass graves of Cheong Ek and tried to listen to what all those people would tell us…

getting quieter and quieter…


Cheong Ek

8,000 skulls in a tower
I sit quietly next to mass
graves of headless
women children men

Their crime was their minds
Thinkers, writers, educators

And I wonder what they
would whisper in my ear
As I sit under this Jasmine
Tree counting breaths

Remember us?
Tell our story?
Don’t let this happen?

Or would they be screaming?
Maybe they might have even
saw a bit of beauty
a monarch butterfly
a flower
a lotus flower in the bloody pond
Maybe after days of torture
They found some peace
in Buddhist breaths
Kneeling blindfolded
before the hoe the machete the cane

I sit here listening today
amongst holes bones
clothes with no people

And watch butterflies dance
from grass flowers to flowers

Hearing not anger but a second
of peace just a second reminding
us to do what they couldn’t




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