Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Sometimes I pray, sometimes I meditate, sometimes I float around like a cloud."

마곡사: (MA-GOK-SA) 
       This weekend I spent my time about four hours outside of Seoul at a Buddhist Temple, famous for it's original buildings and paintings.  I came to Korea in hopes of finding new ideas about life and how other's live it.  I must say, being in a temple for two days, and living the lifestyle of a monk, has definitely helped me to fulfill that want.  Doing a temple stay has not been the most exciting thing that I have done so far in Korea, in fact, it's probably one of the most boring.  However, I think sometimes, something that I need to realize, is that everything in life does not have to be a giant exciting adventure in order to sit high on your list of incredible moments.  I think something that I took from this experience is that, sometimes, it is okay to just BE, and appreciate the beauty in what surrounds you every day.  You do not need to climb a tall mountain, jump out of a plane, or mud wrestle to feel exhilarated. You can find solace in just your thoughts alone, if someone teaches you how to understand them. When asking a monk what he does every day at the temple, his response was as follows, "Sometimes I pray, sometimes I meditate, sometimes I float around like a cloud. Sometimes I am happy, and sometimes, I am sad." I will forever remember these words... simple, pure, and honest.

      We arrived at the temple around 2pm in the afternoon. We were given traditional clothing, which we quickly changed into, and made our way into a room where we sat with a monk and had tea with him.  I don't know what it was about this holy place or about being in the presence of a monk that was so exhilarating to me.  I suppose a monk is no different than a priest in my religion at home, yet, I could not help but wonder, why this experience felt so different.  I think to me, I see monks as such pure and spiritual beings.  Their focus is not solely on the idea of worshiping a higher being, but being in harmony with yourself, and the world around you.  True harmony based on the belief of reaching happiness and putting aside greed and other sufferings. He spoke so honestly.  He was both sincere and extremely humorous.  He made countless sarcastic jokes, keeping the moment light, while still answering all of our questions about the religion seriously. 

       We filled the majority of our time at the temple with meditation, prayer, meal times, some chores, and some walking around the temple.  On Sunday morning we were awoken at 3:30am in the morning for prayer.  We quickly arose and made our way to the main temple, where we then followed a chanting monk in circles around the outside of the temple.  This was one of my favorite moments.  It was before dusk, therefore, the moonlight was still guiding us, and I was the first person in line behind the monk.  As he lead us in circles around the temple, he hummed, struck a wooden instrument, and sang a Buddhist prayer, stopping twice at each mid point of the temple to bow.  As we followed behind him, hands in folded position, and bowing to the Buddha at the appropriate time, I could not help but feel worldly. I can not even begin to express what was going through my mind during all of this.  It was somewhere on the spectrum between being breathlessly astonished to being in some sort of disbelief of where I was and what was occurring. After he completed the prayer walk, he lead us inside the temple, where we knelt, bowed, and followed the prayers of three monks. Aside from not knowing what to do or say, I basked in the beauty of the religion I did not know, and how devote they were.

        Meditation was quite different than I had expected.  We were told how to sit, and how to breathe, as well as what to think of.  In my experience, meditation has always been about clearing your mind of any thoughts and reaching a point of complete peace and relaxation.  Buddhists seem to meditate in order to attain an understanding for life, life's sufferings, and what we are here for.  Before the monk struck his wooden wand three times as an indication that the meditation had begun, he instructed us to focus on who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.  As we sat in silence he paced the room, making sure that no one was sleeping.  Fifty minutes of meditation goes by so slow when you are sitting in complete silence and darkness... however, if the rain was good for anything this weekend, it was a nice accent during this time.  I can't say I got very far with my meditation, however.  I didn't feel what I was hoping to feel. My mind wandered from there to Timbuktu.  I think I need to practice.

        Aside for tea time with a monk, my two favorite parts of the temple stay were doing 108 prostrations (bows) and making our own prayer beads.  We all knew going into this that we would have to do 108 consecutive bows and pretty much every one of us were worried about this portion of the stay.  The bows require you to go from standing position to having 5 points on the ground (two knees, two elbows, and forehead) and then back to standing position. The entire movement from standing to floor to standing again is one full bow.  We had to do this 108 times continuously.  Each bow had a purpose in lowering your heart and washing away your soul from the impurities.  With each bow, we were lowering ourselves to the ground, and as we did this as we were ridding ourselves of the sufferings of within our soul (jealous, hatred, greed, anger, resentment) and filling ourselves with peace.  Each bow was for a reason, for example: "I bow to be diligent in my efforts to improve myself. I bow to be thankful for the hard times I have had because they have made me strong. I bow for the times I have used angry words towards others.  I bow for the times I have taken my parents for granted.  I bow for the times I have failed to be thankful to all those who help to provide my shelter. I bow for the people who are working in bad conditions.  I bow for the people who work to provide me with healthy food.  I bow to have a generous mind, even if I do not have enough for myself.  I bow for the precious lives of all the children in the world.  I bow for the times I have taken things for granted.  I bow for the times I have used slander to hurt others.  I bow for humility so that I can always put others first."  Although doing 108 bows in a row was strenuous, I really appreciated this part of my visit. I truly thought about what each bow meant, and how it pertained to me and I felt more at peace when it was over.  I also really enjoyed making prayer beads.  The prayer beads has 108 beads on it and can be used as a tool for counting when you are doing your 108 bows.  The monk also told us to keep it with us always and when we are feeling overcome by suffering to use the prayer beads. It is a symbol of the perfect you.  As we made the beads we were told to envision ourselves building a perfect model of ourselves where our hearts are lowered and we are at peace with ourselves and the world.  When we need a reminder of ourselves in that perfect state, we can reflect with the prayer beads.  It is a circle and represents us and our lives as a circle, continuously changing and accepting what life brings to us.

Although the rain was quite a buzz kill for the weekend, and I had to wake up at ridiculous hours, do some chores, and eat yucky vegetarian food, I have a new found appreciation  and respect for the Buddhist religion, as well as those who practice it.  I have to say, I am enlightened just to know that there are people in this world who strive for peace and happiness in this way.  It is truly amazing.

                                              Magoksa Temple

                               This is where the monks ring the bell before each meal time.

            <3 the monk who shared tea and conversation with us. he was an inspiration.
                                       Inside the temple... three Buddha's.

                                 My prayer beads, a true treasure.


Monday, April 9, 2012

one fine day.

It's been a while and so I suppose it's about that time.  Tonight, as I arrived home at 11:00pm on a Monday night, I decided that my day had left me feeling too content and light to just go to bed without reflecting on it... and my "Iced Americano" has left me too awake.

Moments. We all have them.  Moments of random happiness, inspiration, sadness, realization, contentment. Today I had a million moments. An exaggeration, maybe, but a well deserved one.  Today was probably one of the most beautiful days in Seoul that I have experienced since moving into my apartment. Today, I truly FELT spring.  Everything about it was wonderful.  The sun was shining, the window hung open beside me at work, my desktop orchid basked in the glowing sun, and I was well suited for it in my new spring dress.  I am always happy to see my students' faces on Monday morning. It might be the start of a new work week, but they make it worth it.  I couldn't help but smile each time a new period began and I greeted my students with "Isn't it BEAUTIFUL outside today!"  I received a lot of responses... from blank stares, to "Teacher NO.. I don't like the sun."

At 1:40pm, when my last class left my room... all I could do was sit and contemplate a nice long walk and wonder which direction the city would take me.  At 4:40pm, I was out the doors and on my way through city streets, tall city buildings, and rays of sunshine.  I walked for two hours from Wolgye Station to Myeonmok Station..

It was there where I finally met up with some friends, Aileen and Cameron.  Korean BBQ and Baskin Robins... pretty typical for the three of us.  It was what happened after that really took me to a happy place.  We started walking, originally to locate and purchase some strawberries at a locate market, yet somehow ended up blowing bubbles in the city streets, making small Korean children smile, conversing with a local drunken bubble loving old Korean man, and inspiring everyone in the park to purchase bubbles of their own.

In passing, I caught a glimpse of some sword and light saber shaped bubble rods... a must have, I told my friends.  I made my way into the store to make the purchase as the Korean women behind the counter giggled at the three of us relentlessly.  No time wasted, we popped those bad boys open and went right to it on the sidewalk outside the store.  From twirls to full on struts up and down the sidewalk, we danced about and played.  Koreans walked by, either staring at us blankly or simply smiling (two younger guys offered to take our picture).  As we decided to take it across the street to the park, where it seemed less distracting and more free... we were bombarded by a drunken Korean man who wanted to take part in our shenanigans. He attempted to speak a slur of Korean to me just before taking the wand out of my hand and playing with us.  As he made bubbles, he laughed, asked where we were from, flung the wand around while making goofy gestures,  and then went on with his night.  He was kind and fun and really made our night much more entertaining.  At the same time, Aileen noticed a little girl behind her dancing in the bubbles while smiling back and forth at her mother and the bubbles floating around her.  While we waited for the green walking man to cross the street, we blew some bubbles for her and then made our way over to the small park. Just before the little girl ran off, Aileen caught her and gave her bubble wand to her.  She was thrilled, as was Aileen, as she watched her play, knowing that she took part in the smile on her face.  Again, people walked by... smiling or just passing on with their night.  We continued playing, while the small children around us started to join in.  A small boy, about four years old ran circles around us popping our bubbles and dancing in them.  As I bent down to let him try to blow some himself, I saw his face light up, and he ran back to his mother giggling like a happy clam.  Cameron on the other hand had a slightly older crowd of middle school girls in uniforms watching him.  As Aileen and I prompted him to turn and blow bubbles for them, they cheered and blushed. On and on and on it went... we were making people smile. As we continued, we started to notice something... bubbles... coming from other directions.  We started a trend, an inspiration you might say.  People around us had gone to the store across the street and purchased bubbles of their own. As we stopped and noticed what was going on, a feeling of amazement just enveloped my body.  What a wonderful thing that was happening right before our eyes.  I walked over and gave my bubbles to the four year old as his mother thanked me and urged him to, smiles on both of their faces.  I stopped and looked around before we decided to move on.  The little girl, the four year old boy, the middle school girls, and the parents who were watching over their children... simple and pure enjoyment brought on by soapy water. Could it be? In a world where the young grow up too fast and the old forget what it feels like to be young... we sparked a bubble movement. On we went with our evening... as I walked away from the park and we left our bubble rods to others, I felt pure happiness.... and what a wonderful feeling it was. Mission accomplished.

"You are never too old to be young... and maybe sometimes we just need to play so that we don't forget that."<3