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Where in the World is Katie O’Brien?
I’d consider myself a professional daydreamer. Whether I’m sitting in class, waiting in line at Starbucks, or just laying in bed, I can guarantee I’m unintentionally distracted for at least a little while, replaying scenes from today or mentally wandering through what could happen tomorrow.
When I arrived in Japan and found out I would be visiting a Zen Buddhism temple where my Anthropology of Religion class would be silently meditating, I thought to myself, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.”
I was excited to visit the temple and appreciate the architecture. However, my brain doesn’t have an off switch. Sitting crisscross for three hours staring at the floor with my hands in my lap, trying to clear my mind made me feel anxious.
We traveled to Kamakura and arrived at the Kencho-Ji Zen Buddhism around 2 p.m.
The scenery seemed like a postcard, it was almost as though I was not really there. Kencho-Ji is made up of small and large open temples with no doors, strewn across the groundsalong a gravel path. The overall atmosphere is very open and airy.
Inside the individual temples were elaborate statues of the Buddha, brightly colored linens hanging from high ceilings, and beautiful hand painted ceiling decorations. Because it was winter in Japan, the air was cold, but the gradual sunset made the shadows of the pagoda-style buildings seem delicate and welcoming. I immediately felt better.
Walking through the temple grounds, I noticed how silent it was. The only thing you could hear was the shuffle of feet through the gravel paths, birds chirping from the tops of the temple buildings and the hushed voice of Taiji, our guide who was leading us to the building where we wouldbegin our meditation practice.
We entered the building Hojo, which Taiji told us was commonly known as “Ryou-den,” which means “Dragon King Hall.” The floor was a straw mat, separated into rows by intricate strips of fabric that ran from wall to wall. In between the rows where cushioned mats where we would be sitting to mediate.
Taiji told us that the purpose of the meditation would be to “clear our minds” and, in time, achieve spiritual enlightenment like the Buddha and help to relieve our suffering.
I sat down, crisscrossed my legs, put my hands in my lap and waited for Taiji to ring the gong, indicating the start of the first 20 minute mediation.
I heard the gong and tried to relax. What I thought was going to be very difficult and uncomfortable ended up feeling very natural. The hustle of life seemed to fade into the background of my head for a little while and I was able to focus on the here and now, to be present in the moment.
The gong sounded two more times and the meditation wascomplete. I took a deep breath and felt immediately better.
Taiji left us with a final thought and explained that the only thing that is truly real is now. He means that a very important part of life is to be present in the moment. Don’t let life pass by without realizing it. If you’re too focused on what happened yesterday or what is happening tomorrow, you’re going to miss out on what’s going on right in front of you.