Picture gallery at the bottom of the article.
I’m forever in a state of anxiousness. Always trying to do more in a day than 24 hours will allow. I started the day with the intention of relaxing and I found myself getting off to a rocky beginning. All good intentions aside, I had work to do. I have an art show coming up and I had to go to the lab to get prints made. After the lab, I was going to stick with my original thought and go find some peace and solitude.
With job done and prints made, I drove down the highway telling myself over and over in my mind that I was free today. No other obligations. I could now relax. Too often I’m anxious over getting everything done. I feel like a hamster on a stainless steel wheel always going and never gettting anywhere. I wanted today to be different. I wanted to get off the wheel.
A friend told me about a monastery with a big statue of Buddha on the mountainside. She said it was a great place to go be with nature and a terrific place for me to take pictures. That was good enough for me. I wanted to go find it.
As I headed out of town I was trying to breathe in and out deeply, letting go of the cares and concerns I was carrying with each breathe. As I got further and further out of town, away from my computer, my emails, phone and job I found it getting easier. I was traveling again and it was wonderful. I was free, camera in hand and going exploring. What could be better?
As I approached the sign that read Junction 78, I contemplated continuing until I ran out of daylight, gas, or money. Or all three. Normally, I never travel alone. With memory loss problems it’s not a good idea. I have been known in the past to forget where I am, or where I’m going. Fortunately, I wasn’t going so far that I felt too nervous about it, so instead I got off on my exit and continued toward the destination I planned for. Deer Park Monastery.
Getting off the highway and driving toward the monastery, I noticed the road became very residential in nature. Could this be right? Moments later the road became even more remote. Driving on a road that was barely paved, large holes and ‘No Outlet’ signs, I started wondering if I was going the right way. Then I saw the sign for the street I was supposed to turn on. It was a hand painted sign stuck into a pot. I turned and saw another sign, ‘Deer Park Monastery’. I had found it.
The first thing I saw as I approached was a sign that read “Smile” and another that read “Breathe”. My first thought was I was off to a good start. After these was another, “This is a happy moment”. It wasn’t until then I realized that I needed to heed these signs and really ‘BE’ in this place. Leave everything else behind.
The residential area eventually fell away and the winding road lead me to a parking area. As I exited my car I saw a few small buildings. I also saw lots of other cars, but no people. I didn’t see a map telling me where to go either. After a moment, an airport shuttle van drove up and a woman got out with her luggage and the van drove away. Hoping she knew where she was going, I followed. She made her way to one of the buildings marked Registration. She spoke with one of the nuns that came out who told her where to put her luggage. I politely stopped the nun and asked where the large Buddha was. She gave me vague directions to just keep going up the mountain until I saw it. So, up I went.
As I walked along the road toward the base of the hill, all I could hear was birds singing in the trees, leaves rustling in the wind and my footsteps, and my heavy breathing from the ‘going up’ part. Along the way I saw more signs like the few I’d seen on the way in. Reminding me of where I was and where my mind should be.
It was hot. Hotter than I like it. Nonetheless it was a lovely day. A bell began to ring. It sounded like one of those great big, heavy bells that take two people to pull the rope. What was the bell telling me? Time for lunch? Time to meditate? What was it signaling to these people, or was it just a bell to tell me the time, like on a church?
Although the first nun I spoke to told me to take the second left to find the Buddha, I decided to take the first left, just to see what was there. There’s a large hall, a few monks and nuns walking around. Although this place felt like the middle of no where, it wasn’t. There were power lines, vehicles, a tool shed and solar panels. They’re almost self sustainable out here, growing much of their own food.
Still unsure of where I was supposed to be headed, I stopped another nun to ask for directions. She informed me that it was time for lunch in the dining hall. I explained that I was not a paying guest, but she told me that lunch was for all and asked me to follow her to the dining hall. Feeling that it would be rude to refuse, I followed. Also, I couldn’t resist her calm nature and kindness.
I entered the dining hall and saw it was filled with all people of all sorts: young, old, White, Asian and everything in between. The food was plentiful, wholesome and, to my delight, delicious. I’m not very good at eating with chopsticks but I tried my best considering where I was. The view out the window overlooking this hidden mountain was gorgeous. It was somewhat strange, sitting there and eating a meal that was offered to me just for being there. There was no talking during the meal. The whole place was basically silent except for the muted sounds of human movement. A few minutes into the lunch session a bell rang and everyone in the hall just stopped. It was like in the movies when they stop time and everything just freezes. Everybody simply stopped whatever they were doing and stared ahead as if meditating. If they were in the process of chewing their food they didn’t even bother to swallow. After another ring of the bell the meal continued as before. It was very surreal. The room was brutally hot and I was drenched with sweat by the time I finished my meal and I hadn’t really seen anything yet. Although that’s not completely true, is it? I’d seen kindness, beauty and generosity. What more could I be looking for? Near the end of the meal the bell chimed again and everyone stopped, again. What was this all about? Were they reminders to eat moderately? Or to be present, mindful, and aware? I didn’t know. When I’d finished my meal I wanted to continue my journey, but would I be allowed to leave? Would I be disruptive? Then I saw others leaving and quietly I got up and headed out. I didn’t know where to go so I followed someone else. He went outside with his dishes in hand. There was a compost bin for any uneaten food and tubs to wash dishes in. Obviously, everyone was supposed to clean up after themselves. Following the others lead, I did. Then I started back up the road in search of my Buddha.
I kept walking, going up, not knowing if I was going the right way. When I crested a small hill, I contemplated going back. I really did have things I had to do today and being all alone on this trail was making me nervous. But, I kept going. Just a little further, I told myself, in hopes I’d find my Buddha friend. Reaching another crest, it looked as if the beaten path turned to the right. I followed and then I saw him. A large white Buddha sitting there just waiting for you to find him and visit for a while. Moving past him, I saw that the trail continued. I decided to see where it went and I’m glad I did. At the end of the trail was a beautiful pagoda.
The pagoda had an opening in it where people could come, light incense and chant or meditate, I assume. I really have no idea. I’ve never meditated, let alone chanted. But I enjoyed sitting there watching the birds fly over the tops of the trees with their shadows dancing below on the tree tops. I enjoyed listening to the wind in the trees.
When I stood up to leave I saw the freeway in the far distance reminding me of what was waiting for me. Couldn’t I stay and just sit and be? Listen to my inner voice or a divine voice from above and have it tell me what to do, rather than me trying to find my way? I had to go. I had things to do. I was about to leave when I thought NO! I was going to sit and force myself to just ‘be’. I turned the alarm on my iPhone to let me know when ten minutes would pass. I could go back to the real world then. It occurred to me that maybe I never really left it since I was using my phone for a reminder alarm. While I sat there I wondered, how does one find peace? How do you find contentment? Can it be found in your living room? In the arms of someone you love? How about in a church or other spiritual place? Does anyone ever really find it? If they do, I’d like to know how.
Truth be told, in the mere ten minutes I gave myself to sit there, I didn’t find it. As I sat there, I was too busy looking for bugs that might be crawling on me and thinking of what photos I wanted to take. I couldn’t just sit and take it in. I got up and began the hike down the mountain.
I took a last look over the mountain and felt the breeze on my skin as I went to leave. I left the pagoda and headed down the path that would lead me back to my car and my life. I didn’t really want to go, but I did. Interestingly, as I walked along I came to realize that I felt relaxed. I felt little of the anxiety I had felt when I started this day. I felt happy and almost refreshed. I wasn’t thinking about my day and the things I had to do and I hadn’t thought about that for most of the time I was there. I realized I had been taking it all in more than I thought and enjoyed being one with nature. Perhaps I had meditated after all without knowing it. Or at least some version of it. Close enough for me. With practice maybe I could get better at it. For today though I think I found what I was looking for.