Saturday, November 20, 2010
This is not a religious blog. Or political, for that matter. I usually try to keep my posts light-hearted or of the daily musings about life variety. But it is a blog about me. And while I’ve shied away from the more divisive issues, I have a feeling that the more I write the more the my personal beliefs will emerge.
Just like in my grammar/education post where I noted I ran the gamut of what’s available to the average American student, I’ve also been widely exposed to many, many religious and spiritual practices though I certainly wouldn’t say all of them.
I spent nine years in Catholic school at a church that I considered to be more progressive as far as Catholic churches go…that is, until one priest came along and tried to set a bunch of teenagers back by about 50 years. That didn’t really help any spiritual curiosities we might have had. I had a boyfriend who was hell-bent on trying to convert me to any Christian religion outside of Catholicism and another who was an atheist. I spent a year in a yoga school where I delved into the history of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. I’ve had friends and colleagues from all walks of life. And I’ve had personal experiences that are mine, and mine alone, that have helped shape who I am.
So where does that put me on the whole religious-spiritual spectrum? With an appreciation for everyone and everything. I believe in equality of all forms. Live and let live. Don’t try to covert me, and I won’t try to convert you. We can have all the healthy debates and discussions you want, but please respect my beliefs as much as I respect yours. Sadly, that’s not how the majority of people in our world work. But for me, I have a sheer curiosity about all the different beliefs there are on this planet and what really makes people tick.
So with that being said, I hung out with a few monks last weekend. It was pretty cool.
Since my curiosities and I want to experience as much as possible this year, that includes the spiritual beliefs of Koreans and the history that goes with it.
A few weeks ago, I visited a Catholic or Christian service with a friend (I couldn’t tell which one it was actually) and felt the familiarity of every Sunday spent with my family at home. And since a Buddhist temple stay is also part of the traditional Korean experience, a few friends and I decided to get out of Mokpo for a ladies’ retreat weekend.
To say that Mihwangsa Temple was quiet and peaceful is an understatement. It’s set in the mountains of Haenam County, where the leaves were changing vibrant colors of orange and red. The cornerstone of the main temple is 1,300 years old. Just like the cathedrals in Europe, its sheer age and the history of people who’ve been there is overwhelming.
From the start of our weekend with rice and dumpling soup to the last 3 hours spent hiking to the top of the mountain, I was blissfully happy. It was helpful that this particular temple was my kind of temple. Our guide’s English was nearly perfect, so we were never confused as to where we should be or what we should be doing. The temple rules were more respectful guidelines and not so strictly enforced that we forgot to have fun. And the head monk was so jovial that it appeared his entire bald round head was always smiling.
We seamlessly moved from one activity to another – bowing correctly, walking meditation in the crisp autumn air, tea ceremony, sweeping the temple steps, eating our quiet meals. Side note: I quite enjoyed the food. We still got our daily Korean allowance of kimchi and rice, and it was beyond pleasant to eat three clean vegan meals in a row.
The entire weekend did exactly what I thought it would do. It left me feeling recharged and more alive, even after waking up at 4:00 a.m. for the morning service. Anytime I’ve been a part of group meditation, chanting, or just sitting quietly with good intentions, I can’t help but feel a palpable sense of peace wash over me.
It’s a feeling I just can’t leave behind. It’s always out there for me to pursue. And so the curiosities about the world continue…