Whoops I missed my blogaversary but I wrote my first blog post January 6th,2013 and I have officially made it full circle! I honestly thought this effort would have been abandoned long ago, but in the past year I’ve written 55 blog posts and gotten more than 2,000 views! I know its actually not a lot compared to the serious blogs out there, but I’m proud of myself for following through. This blog is more for myself than anything and it has been a great release for me over the past year especially during times when I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. This also marks a full year of my taking cold showers (because eczema).
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.
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.
*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.