(Long post coming atcha)
The weekend before Orientation ended, a few of us embarked on a temple stay at a Buddhist temple. Last time I was in Korea, my temple stay experience was one of my highlights. But this weekend, we managed to visit during the hottest day of the year here in Korea. So it was sweaty. But also it was really, really good.
We were greeted by a large group of lovely volunteers ready to take us in for the weekend. They gave us our uniforms and showed us where we’d be sleeping that night. We had a brief explanation of basic terms and etiquette that we would be using at the temple. We also got our schedule for the weekend, and it was jam packed with some pretty stellar activities.
The first thing I noticed was that it was pretty large compared to the temple I stayed at in 2017. They explained to us that this was specifically built for retreats, and that they usually only use the space about 6~ times a year. The title of the program that weekend was called “Discovering Our Inner Light”, for reasons you will soon see.
After the evening meditation ceremony in the temple, we had a traditional monastic meal. This was pretty foreign, if not completely foreign, to most of us. We all worked together to bring in pots of food, water, and utensils. You have four bowls and you need to place them out in a very specific order. You also need to fold your towel a particular way and place it on the left side. Everything is completely deliberate. There should be no talking during this time as well.
At the end, we quietly cleaned our plate with rice water and a pickled radish. Something interesting about the cleaning process is that you clean from the largest bowl to the smallest and use the same water. At the end, you’re supposed to drink the water so that there’s truly zero waste.
After that, we made lotus lanterns!
After that, we went to a truly powerful meditation session. We called it the Candlelight Ceremony.
We brought our freshly made lotus lanterns into the temple and were greeted by beautiful candles lit by the caricature of Buddha. The monk stepped in front of us, smiling, and said softly,
“Do you know why you live? Do you know who you are?”
And we kind of shuffled and sat in silence for a while. Different adjectives came to mind as I searched for an answer. Then he said, “Without using any descriptors, actions, or nouns, can you answer this question?”
He then led us in a meditation and asked us to scan our bodies. He said that if we really focused we could feel a tiny marble of energy glowing in our chest. When we felt it, we stood up and lit our candles in our lanterns. He said that the candles we held were an outward representation of the small flame inside ourselves.
We then did a walking meditation. I realized that the best meditations I have are through focusing on movement. He instructed us to let our inner light fuel our movements, and to let it grow and give it autonomy
During this time I garnered an immense appreciation for my body and my mind. Sometimes I can go through hardships and be too harsh and strict on myself. There are many times where I don’t particularly like how I look, or I don’t treat my body well. My body does so much to get me through life everyday and it protects me. My mind is strong and durable and even though I make mistakes, I should be kind to myself. It’s only human. This is what my inward fire symbolized to me. Letting it take control of my movement felt peaceful and liberating. It felt warm and empowering. I wanted to keep that feeling forever as I walked around the temple holding my light in my palms.
At 4 am sharp, the morning ceremony began. This also involved a deep meditation and left us with a little over an hour of free time. I took about 20-30 minutes to just sit alone overlooking the cemetery where the sun was supposed to rise. Orientation had been working me to the bone for weeks. We weren’t even allowed to go more than 20 minutes away from Yonsei campus. Being in the moment, alone, watching the sunrise was like taking a breath of fresh air. Just having that time to think freely and remember why I came to Korea was so beneficial to me. I watched the sunrise and for truly the first time since being here, I finally felt like I was back in Korea. I felt incredible.
Afterwards, I ran into a few other people and we quietly walked around the temple, surveying the sites.
We returned and all of us worked together to clean the whole temple before breakfast. I mopped the stairs while others vacuumed, took out the trash, or cleaned bathrooms. We all also cleaned our own sheets and blankets.
Breakfast was absolutely delicious. Most of us went back for seconds. Apparently this temple is well known for having such delicious food. They definitely did not disappoint!
For the rest of the day we switched from activity to activity. We had a discussion about meditation with the head. Because his voice and demeanor was so relaxing, and we were so tired from the night before, he let us nap for 20 minutes and we all felt super bad about it!!
We also had a great opportunity to watch a performance of a traditional Dharma song. I was beaming watching these lovely ladies perform!
They gave us lyrics and we all sang together!
One of my favorite parts was being able to try out the different instruments. Growing up, I was trained in classical guitar, but I’ve been essentially out of practice for about 5 years. Getting my hands on one of these string instruments felt so good. It was fantastic being able to experiment with the different nosies and weight of the instrument.
Next up: we painted fans on traditional Korean paper using water colors! I tried going for a night sky look.
After another fantastic meal (lunch), it was time to say goodbye. We took some pictures with the wonderful volunteers that housed us that weekend and gave a final thank you to the monks that helped us through the past few days. Many of us were also super excited to take a nap on the bus back to Incheon!