My reason

I’m a Buddhist. It’s something that has always been a part of me, but I never really realized how much of an impact it has had on my decisions and my beliefs growing up. The traditions I followed were taught to me as I grew up but I never thought about the reasons behind them nor questioned any of the beliefs. Honestly, until I decided to join this study abroad program, I didn’t even realize what kind of Buddhist I was (Pure Land if we’re going to put labels on things).

And its super interesting to study your own religion. I won’t say its good or bad because I honestly don’t think its either. It’s interesting because you’re viewing it as an outsider, understanding why others may question your beliefs the same way you question theirs. You see why it may be appealing to someone or maybe not so much.

But the effect it’s had on me? I think its mainly led me to consider how Buddhism has affected my life. And I think it’s saved me in so many ways. Looking at the big picture, it has the appeal of so many other religions, the existing belief that there is something bigger out there looking over us, giving a rhyme and reason to the world. There was a justification for everything that happened to me, good and bad.

Growing up I had a whole host of health problems that still plague me today, particularly my eczema. Just imagine having mosquito bites all over your body, trying your hardest not to scratch, and hating yourself for not being able to control any of it. The worst for me has always been my fear of going to sleep, knowing that I might scratch in the middle of night and wake up with bloody open sores. Then there was the depression and the anxiety that doesn’t really fall far behind this kind of physical and mental anguish.

But I don’t doubt. I have good days and bad days still, but I believe there is a reason for everything that happens in my life. I don’t doubt that growing up with these problems have made me a stronger person today. I don’t doubt that I’m extremely lucky for growing up in a family and environment that could give me the best care I needed.

I do know that Amituofo has been there for me every time. When I was hospitalized for my skin infections as a child, when I’ve had my worst migraines or panic attacks and I was fairly certain I was going to die, when I spent those days in bed crying and ready to give up, and whenever my anxiety creeps up on me at night and I lie there for hours on end wondering if I’ll ever fall asleep.

Life is hard sometimes, but I think it’s always a little bit easier if there’s a reason.

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Would you ever talk to other people the way you talk to yourself?

Hate is a strong word.

Love is different. People use it in every other sentence without a second thought, describing friends, enemies, and foods alike. But hate. There’s a heaviness to the sound of the word. A bitterness that is revealed as soon as its said out loud. It’s something that’s nearly impossible to take back because when you use it, you’ve got to really mean it.

It’s sad that the way it comes up most commonly is in reference to self-hate. To be perfectly honest, I hear it most when I say it to myself. And its just so not okay. Because I hear other people say it to themselves all the time as they describe all their faults. And I look at them and I wish that they could see all the beauty that I see. And I tell them how beautiful they are, but each and every time, I am met with a sense of disbelief. It’s happened to me more times than I can count. It makes me wonder if anyone is truly satisfied with themselves. It makes me think that self-hate is so much more common than self-love when it really should be the other way around.

The title of my blog is discoveringmetta. Lovingkindness. In metta practice, one often starts the meditation with metta toward themselves, and then shifts gradually toward friends, neutral companions, and finally enemies. But sometimes, the hardest person to work with is the self. I feel like working with myself is something I’ve been avoiding this year. And that maybe its time I started facing up to it.

Because I really respect people who love themselves. I don’t see it as arrogance, just a really great attitude. These are the people that are willing to take the fullest advantage of the life that they were given and that’s the kind of person that I want to be. To be quite honest, I’m not really sure where to start.

I do know that I would never talk to other people the way I talk to myself. And that’s just not okay at all. Maybe I’ll start with that.

The introvert in me

I’m an introvert. I love spending time with other people. I really do. I love hearing people’s life stories, understanding where they came from, where they are now, why they do the things they do. I love having long conversations, digging through that crunchy outer shell and finding the real shit. Because people are really fucking cool. I believe that despite all the differences between people, everyone has intrinsic human qualities that allow them to connect and understand each other. And I love that.

But I’m an introvert. I also love spending time with myself. All that stuff that I love exploring about other people, I also love doing for myself. And if I go too long without me time, I always feel a little lost, a little confused about who I am, how I’m doing. It’s not as if I sit alone in the dark analyzing my entire life, but I give my brain a little time off from focusing so much on other people and naturally, it starts to relax and take a little more of me into account. And if I don’t get enough me time? I essentially start acting like a non-functioning human being, and half of the sounds that come out of my mouth end up just being incomprehensible gibberish.

So what is this trip like for the introvert in me? I’m not really sure. On the one hand, I’ve almost never been alone. Its kind of hard when nine people are living in two rooms in the middle of a city. But this trip is meant to get me out of my comfort zone. While its been difficult, I’ve gotten to know people really well in the week and a half that I’ve been here, I haven’t imploded yet, and I’m generally happier than I have been in the past year.

In a way, I am completely alone. Coming here, I left behind everything that has ever been a consistent part of my life and had the opportunity to have a fresh start. Being in a completely new country for a limited period of time has allowed me to stop thinking about the past and the future so much and just concentrate on the today, the now. It’s weird because if I had had this mindset in the U.S., things would’ve been much easier. But for some reason, I just have trouble focusing on the present when I’m surrounded by so much stuff.

I keep thinking that when I return to school in February, its back to real life, back to stress and worries and everyday anxiety, but I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I can choose to just let go. We’ll see how that works out.

Balancing life with social media

Computers and internet are great inventions. Anything and everything can be answered with the click of a button. But there are tradeoffs. Nowadays, I can’t go anywhere without my phone. I can’t qualify it, but it just feels like I’d be missing out on something, a text, a phone call, not being able to immediately look up a piece of information (although how important could that really be anyway?).

Before arriving in Japan, we were told that there wouldn’t be wifi at the place where we were staying and honestly, I was quite relieved. Here was a place where I would be forced to be alone or at least alone with the people around me. Turns out, we do have wifi here. It was exciting at first, to be able to call my parents if I needed to, to connect with the outside world, to be able to blog even. Obviously it was convenient to be able to take care of some of the work that I needed to deal with as well.

But… social media. I honestly feel obligated to keep up with the workings of the outside world. To connect with people so that when I return to real life, I’ll still have some friends left. But there are so many problems with social media. Of course there have been studies that being on Facebook actually makes you an unhappier person. People post their fun and who they’ve been hanging out with and where they have been. For me, I think its a matter of being able to see what I’ve been left out of.

And then there’s chatting online. I don’t think its ever been said aloud, but being the last person to write back kinda sucks. To be quite honest, whenever I write to someone, I have a very vague but real worry that they won’t write back. Because maybe they just don’t care enough about me. Ugh, and read receipts are the absolute worst. There is no way to make me more frantic about checking over and over again wondering if someone suddenly decided that they hate me. Typically, the reality is that someone read the message, didn’t have time to write back, and later forgot about the message. But my insecurities take over long before I have time to think things through logically, at which point I become obsessive as fuck.

So now I don’t really know what to do. I feel like if I don’t communicate, everyone will just end up forgetting me, realizing how unimportant I was to their life. But social media also makes me anxious like no other.

I wish I was secure enough with myself not to care about stupid things like this, but I do.

What is this really about?

It’s 5:21 in the morning on Sunday, September 14th, the beginning of our third full day in Kyoto. It feels like it has been a week since we got here. And not in a bad way. Being forced to live altogether in a tiny space, while difficult for an introvert like me, has brought our small group of nine quite close in a small amount of time.

So what is this trip exactly? To be honest, when I first applied and then hurriedly left for the trip, I didn’t have a very good idea of what I was heading into. I knew that I had to get away, but I didn’t know where to. To lay it down in a nutshell, this is still an academic program focusing on Buddhist traditions in Japan. We will be taking classes on Japanese religion and practice, culture and society (which is taught by a Williams alum!), and a language class. We will also be taking short term trips to monasteries and temples to learn meditation and observe the workings of these places. Finally, at the end of the semester, we will have two weeks on our own to explore Japan on our own and to complete our own research project (something that still intimidates me to no end).

But what is this trip really about? I don’t think its exactly necessary or possible to have a complete answer to that right now. But throughout the past few days, I’ve noticed some things that I didn’t really expect. The students that have come to this program come from all walks of life, and have some very unique perspectives and ideas. It takes a special group to choose a study abroad program such as this and meeting and talking with these people is as much a part of the experience as the classes and trips that we are taking. At the same time, as a group, we share commonalities that are difficult to explain, but are the same values that brought us together as a group in a first place.

I took a very long walk by the river yesterday. (It may be because I forgot where to turn to go home, but that’s beside the point). It was the first time since we arrived that I had spent some time by myself just to think and I did a lot of thinking. While this trip is for me a lot about self-growth, learning to be more comfortable with myself, and pushing my limits, it is also very much about this group of people. During the trip, we are taking five of the Buddhist precepts, and the focus on this is a phrase used by Thich Nhat Hanh, “knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I vow not to […]”. I’m starting to see how important focusing on the group is important on this trip. We are here to help each other, something that I think everyone has been embracing in the past few days. In a way, I think working as a group and for a group, we are also benefitting ourselves. It is helping me see myself in a clearer light and I hope that it only becomes clearer through the next three months.

 

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*This blog will essentially be my journal for my time on this trip. I have found that in the past when I have attempted to keep a journal, it eventually trails off somewhere, I feel guilty about missing a few days, and then just stop altogether. Therefore I will be writing the same way I have been blogging. I will not force myself to write, but when I have thoughts, I will put them down. This is also a place that I often do look back on in order to read my journey over the past year and this trip is a continuation on that. The reason I choose not to start a travel blog is because I will focus not on the physical things that we do, but mostly the thoughts I have that stem from that.

Metta 🙂

Life’s meant to be scary

So after a fourteen hour plane ride, I arrived in Tokyo last night, the beginning of my semester abroad studying Buddhist traditions in Japan. On the plane, I was a major wreck. There was nothing I wanted more than to turn back, to be safe and snug back at home or in the purple bubble on campus. After working all summer, I had had exactly three days to get everything together for my trip and none of that time was spent preparing myself mentally for spending three months in a country where I understood about two words.

But I pictured myself being back at Williams, facing another long year of classes. It would be safe, sure, but how much would I really be growing as a person? How much would I really gain? I think that a lot of people spend their lives trying to get comfortable, trying to make enough money to live comfortably and finding the right people to live comfortably with. But honestly, life is about pursuing the scary stuff. How much life are you really experiencing if you aren’t a little bit scared?

This morning, I am traveling to Kyoto from Tokyo. At the airport, I ended up at three different check-in counters on three different floors before I found the right counter. And then, I almost got on the wrong bus, which would have taken me to the wrong plane. Whoops! But now I know my way around the Tokyo airport so wuddup.

I’m still scared out of my mind. But that’s how I know that this is a good thing. And trip could still end badly, I could have a terrible experience. Obviously I’m trying to stay optimistic, but either way, I refuse to regret taking this opportunity. I’m only looking forward from now on.

And to quote my favorite singer, life’s for the living, so live it, or you’re better off dead.