Last Updated on December 8, 2021 by Christine Kaaloa
Meditation ( 참 선 ) Templestay at Haeinsa Temple
I was in the home stretch with only two hours to go. Each bent joint in my body wanted to scream with spasms.
What the hell was I thinking?
Staring at the wooden wall before me for the past seven hours, the knots and natural grain of the wood were beginning to form a cackling witch.
– Who am I?
This was a good one. These past weeks I’ve wrestled with the rocking crests and uncertain footing of that question. Nearing 40 and still single, the world is mine to create and to accidentally, slaughter. Stay in Korea and develop a career in education? Follow my passion for travel and yoga to India? Root down, find a husband and make babies? Everything felt like it should be the right answer.
Dear God, please let me make the right choice…
– Who am I?
“We all need to clean out the bad that is in us. Meditation helps us do that. Even good must clean their insides so they can see their bright star inside. You must clean yourself out so that you can see your bright star.“
What the monk told me was right. Eyes sparkling with a child-like sincerity and youth, he had the curl of a trickster’s grin. Anyone who thinks monks are only dour and austere, think again. They can be playful jokesters, even roguish.
“Tonight is a special night. We call it Jin. People come from all around the world to meditate here on this night. Here, we will meditate until 3AM. If you would like to join, I will find a place for you.“
I looked out. The temple floor was lined with mats, place-holding backpacks, shawl blankets and bags. It was backpack central for meditating ajummas and ajosshis!
I wasn’t prepared for an overnight stay. I’d entered this temple by sightseeing accident; I needed a day trip getaway and I wanted to hike Mt. Gaya and visit Haeinsa temple.
Next to Haeinsa temple is a temple grounds where you can experience Haeinsa templestay. I didn’t know this, but I arrived at 6PM to participate in a meditation, which I didn’t know would be for 9 continuous hours! Each session would last 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute break to get up, stretch, walk or jog outside the temple in the snow-fallen cold. Was I ready for this kind of commitment?
“Even if you have never meditated before, it is not hard to do. There is only one thing you must ask yourself when you sit….”
Concentrate on a point? Focus on God? Try to clear my mind to become Zen? I had tried all these techniques before…
“… Who am I?”
Last chance to back out. I hung in there. I was searching in myself for that bright star, a bit of clarity about my future and… a right answer.
– Who am I?
I put away the bad things: my fatigue, my life, the grouchy ajumma behind me, who shoved and scolded me for making noise in my fidgeting (apparently the powers of meditation doesn’t work on all Buddhists!) and all the million-and-one things that test my patience and compassion when I think of reasons why I should or shouldn’t like Korea. Like shitty desk-warming rules, last-minute changes to my vacation plans, the scent of fish or garlic off of everyone I crossed (even myself!), the anonymous neighbor who occasionally puts out his cigarette butt by my door and getting evil Korean stares for a cellphone that went off mid-meditation (it was the Korean lady next to me!)… Sure, Koreans love to blame bad things on the foreigner!
Meditation was like an exorcism; I was going into a dark room and closing the door behind me.
By the seventh hour my body started seriously wigging out. It was discomfort to the extent I was fully-focused on trying to contain my body from painful spasms, while trying not to make noise in my shifting (…great, that stupid grouchy ajumma must be livid with me right now!). I began to wish I were back at my apartment in the warm folds of my bed.
Was this meditation stuff working at all??? Was my “star” getting any “brighter”? Was it worth persevering through pain?
Ordinarily, I might answer, Yes. Tonight wasn’t such a case. I was tired of working hard to keep my love-hates and petty annoyances with Korea in balance all the time and furthermore, life can’t be so deep that you can’t find it! It’s not a list of self-induced guilt trips of shoulds, could’ve s or what if reasons.
If you like something, you just do; and that is sufficient reason alone.
The ability to recognize this fact– that’s the bright star! With that, I took myself down to the resting room to get some sleep.
“Looking through a dirty window there is no clarity. Beauty is marred with imperfections that don’t belong to it. The imperfection lies with the viewer and the window he/she looks through.” -Christine 12/19/10
Seven hours of staring at wall and all I could scribble in my notebook of my experience was this, as I sat aboard a homeward-bound bus, …frustrated I couldn’t take pictures of the pristine tranquility of a snowy landscape in passing .