Stop

I had a rough time in Japan, but there is one thing that I do miss. Awareness.

We live in a culture of rush. It’s glorified, especially here in New England. Trying to make plans with someone inevitably becomes an argument about whose schedule is busier because for some reason, being busy equates to being accomplished..

Kyoto was not a particularly happy place for me. We had curfews and restrictions, lots of restrictions, especially at the monastery. A lot of that had to do with trying to diminish our thinking, decreasing our choices, forcing us to do rather than spending every moment anticipating the future. It was hard, but it worked.

But my favorite part of Kyoto? Every night at 8:00, I set out on my nightly walk. I finished all my work in anticipation of my nightly walk. Then I would set out, headphones in. 20 minutes to the river. Just me and myself. Once I got there, a thirty minute walking meditation. And finally, I would pick my favorite rock, sit, and just watch the Kamo River in all its glory. The lights, the city, the water. Then I would stroll home just in time for 10:00 curfew.

I miss it. And its not like I couldn’t do it here. But, I keep telling myself that there isn’t any time to stop. That I have to keep going even though I know its not really true.

Taking time for yourself isn’t a waste of time. In fact, its probably the most productive use of your time. Those are the moments when you are literally living. You don’t even have to be straight up meditating. Just being aware of where you are, not just physically, but in life. Being aware of the people around you, people with just as many feelings and emotions and experiences as you. There’s this unspoken belief that we don’t want to waste our life and in order to accomplish that, we have to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. We have to avoid failure. I am just as guilty in going along with these sentiments, but lately, I’m trying just a little bit harder not to. I personally believe that we are just passing through. Its okay to take life little less seriously.

Look up.

The river from Gojo Dori

The river from Gojo Dori


The river at night

The river at night

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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.

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.