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26 before 26: Attend a Meditation Seminar

4 Apr

Shunko-In Buddhist Monastery in Kyoto

In my 26th year of life, I am attempting 26 new things that I’ve never done before. Full list here.

Upon arriving in Kyoto, the man at the front desk of our Ryokan gave us a couple of English language magazines about different events and sites around the city. I quickly saw an ad for an English language meditation class at a Buddhist temple/monastery. I was hesitant, because the ad emphasized that the priest was American educated, and the picture of the class they provided showed all white people meditating. Every time I ran into white people in Japan, I felt frustrated, like they were ruining my experience. Perhaps they felt the same way upon encountering me. But the thing is, in a country of millions upon millions upon millions of Asians, if you find yourself in an area with 90% white people, you are doing something wrong.

Anyways, I decided to go for it. Meditation class was on my list after all, and any class I would take in New York would be just as WASPy. Brett wasn’t really interested, so I ventured across Kyoto myself eventually finding the temple grounds. The temple where the class was to take place was in a larger park with shrines, statues, more temples. It was a peaceful place to spend a morning, and as Brett and I got used to saying on our trip, “Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, rocking everywhere.”

The class was an hour long, and, as expected, it was full of unsavory tourists. But Buddhism speaks a lot to inner peace and blocking out negative thoughts. So I just went right on ahead and blocked them out. The monk talked to us for about half an hour about the basic tenets of Buddhism. Impermanence, the middle way, and emptiness. It was rather enlightening (pardon the pun!). Once he gave us some of these things to think about, he lit an incense stick and asked us to use the techniques he discussed to meditate for 15 minutes.

It went well…at first. I focused on my breathing. I let my mind wander up and down, left and right, releasing negative thoughts and focusing on myself. Then, my leg went numb. Sitting in that lotus position is not very comfortable. Fun fact, this is why yoga was invented. Buddhist monks wanted to stretch and increase circulation before sitting down to meditate for long periodsof time. I, however, did not do yoga before the meditation, and at some point all I could think about was my numb leg. I tried to refocus on my breathing on my inner self. Nope. Leg. Pain. Needles. No blood circulation. At last when he rang the bell to pull us out of the meditation, I threw my legs in front of me, wobbling them up and down.

Deep meditation is a skill to be practiced and honed. Perhaps I should take a yoga class or two. My monk told us to think of meditation as a prevention, not a cure. It’s a way to strengthen your mind in order to deal with trying times. Despite my leg failure, I did leave the temple feeling elated, relaxed, refreshed, able to take in the day more clearly.

I have been studying Buddhism for roughly the last two years. I found it at a difficult point in my life where I was losing myself. It helped me find my way back, and it’s made me much happier and calmer. Being in Japan only emphasized how much more I want to study the philosophy. The Japanese are so gracious, giving, and selfless. It’s admirable, and I believe a reflection of their religious history.

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