Things I did in China

Saw a giant Buddha and giant pandas.

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Pandas love sleeping.

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Leshan Giant Buddha

 

Visited a Catholic Church and several Buddhist temples.

Ate bugs, yak meat, and the most delicious eggplant;

Bought the yak meat to share with friends.

Bargained with an old lady to get a bronze teapot, decorated with dragons.

Got a massage from a blind Chinese man.

Watched the hockey playoffs while lying in a hotel bed in Zhuhai.

Pushed my physical limits hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Drank so much tea. It was all delicious, but buckwheat was my favorite.

Reconnected with friends and love, and met up with my brother.

Drank craft beer and learned that there are 21 “jags” on a bottle cap.

Sang KTV (karaoke) while drinking champagne and eating sugared popcorn.

Learned that Prince had died and reflected on memories of his music.

Saw a pig leg get roasted with a blow torch. Its head was displayed on the butcher’s table, awaiting sale.

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Yum? (The head is on the table in the background.)

Experienced joy, fear, grief, laughter, heartache, and peace.

Ate Mexican food and pizza; both were pretty good.

Caught a cold and bought medicine for it, not exactly knowing what that medicine was. It did seem to help.

Visited three provinces (Sichuan, Yunnan, Guangdong) and a Special Administrative Region (Macau)

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The heart of old Macau

Bought a postcard but failed to mail it – sorry Danielle and Sofie!

Gambled and lost;

Risked and won.

But I never heard Hotel California.

Broken heart, open heart

Today I am sad and that’s OK.

I am sad because we woke up far too early so that he could get on a plane that I simultaneously wished for and against with equal passion. We are both on paths that work for us; being together in the same space isn’t the best solution for now. I look forward to each day charting new territory.

I am sad because I feel pain when I hear leaders give into fear and reject those who need us most. I won’t begin to imagine the lives of Syrian refugees, but I know they need help and support. While I appreciate that people are afraid that what happened in Paris could happen here (and, in a sad way, it does in our schools on an appallingly regular basis), I believe that when we help each other, more good than bad happens.

I am sad because many of my friends are suffering, physically and mentally. I try to be there, but am not always successful. I am not sure what to do, if anything, to ease their pain. I want to be there all the time for everyone, but know this isn’t possible.

I am sad today because I open my heart and let in the world. I love this sentiment that hearts break open – they don’t shatter, but make themselves vulnerable to what is around them, experiencing “little deaths” so that they have the compassion to understand and work through the big ones. We are kind not because our hearts have stayed healed, but because they have broken and grown bigger as a result.

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The sadness in me won’t stay long because I see joy, hope, and trust too. Joy in the fact that Dave is off to a new country – a tropical island no less – and I will join him and other loved ones in five months. Hope in the fact that, for all the leaders who are crying for closed doors, there are others who are dedicated to keeping theirs open. Trust in the fact that my friends have support, are strong, and will see their trials through.

I think it’s important for me to feel as I do. Because it’s true to who I am. I am open to the suffering and the healing that follows. And I know this process is a constant cycle meant to be embraced to live life fully.

You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair. Chinese Proverb

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Buddhist temple outside of Iksan, South Korea

Always here, always now

To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off when relaxed;
To be able not to be frightened
And at a loss for what to do,
When frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and transforms our lives.
[Liu Wemin, 16th Century]

Found while reading  dhamma footsteps 

I see these words as a great guide as I move forward in my new job, in my resettlement into Portland. I am wary that I will, indeed, slip back into the hurried state that I was accustomed to, that I witness every day in others. Taking time to stretch, walk, write, connect – these are important to me. The balance of relaxation with obligation is an ideal I will continue to strive towards. I felt this most when I lived in Toronto and Cheonan; working hard, yet still able to appreciate my surroundings and where life was taking me.

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Taking a walk break in Toronto

In these two places I found a welcoming balance of routine and novelty; of unhurried and mandates; of relaxation and production. These were places where I went outside every day and experienced the community mindfully. Sometimes I threw myself into the bustle of humanity, while other times I would find a more secluded place and just sit. Refreshed, I would return to my computer and produce, create, or do whatever was needed. Rarely did I feel like I had to do something; I looked forward to the tasks that lay in front of me.

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A park in Cheonan, South Korea. An escape from the large buildings in the background.

 

During these times, in these places, I was able to live in the experience of now. Appreciate that every moment is now without that meaning pressure, an impending deadline. Now simply is, and always will, be.

Nope, not in there, or over here…Where?

I started reading the Quran today because a friend who went back to the USA left it behind, and I am curious. Six pages in and it states that Allah is to be feared, he knows all, and can spot the fakers. I will continue to read, but to be honest, these first impressions aren’t great.

I don’t adhere to a defined religion, and for the most part I do not consider myself very spiritual. Yet there have been times when I have felt “something” – a power/force that I cannot explain very well, but it gives me the chills, expands my heart, and causes me to think “I get it – this is what religion/God/the Spirit is.” So far, I have not felt this way at “home”, only when I have traveled. The first time I recall was when I was at the Notre Dame when I was in college. I was surprised by the feeling, because I never really considered myself Christian, even though I was confirmed at a very liberal Protestant Church. But as I wandered through that building, I remembered understanding why people believed in God. That moment didn’t change me really, but it made me understand the feeling of sensing something powerful. Not an evil or domineering power, but one that I feel throughout my body; it overtakes me, but doesn’t last long. It’s a safe feeling, but not really comforting. It’s a time when I know I am not alone.

About this time last year, I went on an overnight boat to Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand as part of a ten-day solo road trip. I was at the height of my grappling with my own meaning of spirituality and life. I was meditating a lot, and connecting with various forms of Buddhism. I was coming to the conclusion that my spirituality – my “ life purpose” philosophy – had something to do with connection, people, and compassion. I think I scribbled down a huge epiphany about it somewhere, but I can’t find it. I know I wrote to a friend about it in a long email, and he responded to it thoughtfully, but I can’t find that email anywhere either. But that feeling I had when I was at Notre Dame? I had it here, looking at this.

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Meaning thrives here

 

So, I feel this sensation in both nature and in places of worship. For example, I have felt this strong connection and power at a Buddhist temple in Cheonan, Korea.

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I felt power and connection when I walked through this door.

 

And every time I go to the Redwood forest and gaze at the trees that dwarf me.

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Possibly my favorite place on earth. Still wouldn’t want to live here, though.

 

I’m sure I have had this feeling of connection and power at other times in my life, but these are the most recent ones, the ones that I have had over the past two years, since I have been traveling more. But I haven’t had the feeling since being in Oman. I visited Job’s tomb, but felt nothing. I’ve been inside the Grand Mosque which is beautiful, but did not leave me with a sense of belonging or comfort.

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Job (allegedly) lies here

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The Grand Mosque

 

Nor did I experience that sense of awe or connection in Vietnam, despite being in this amazing temple that honored several religions at once – a sentiment I appreciate and resonate with, but for some reason that sense of awe was completely missing. Maybe it was because I was on an official tourist-like tour. Maybe it was because the circus-like colors don’t align with my sense of Spirit.

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Beautiful, but not awe-inspiring

 

I also didn’t feel it while on an overnight boat trip staring in Halong Bay. Why did I feel it so strongly in Milford Sound, but not here? Perhaps I wasn’t listening.

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Awe-inspiring, but not quite it…

 

Whatever the case, I am looking for that connection again. Many things are weighing heavy on me right now – sick friends, the uncertainty of my next steps, the start of a new and highly disorganized semester at the college. My search for meaning continues. Or perhaps it’s starting over.

How do you want to be when you grow up?

“When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.”

— Hunter S. Thompson

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Giant Buddha in Cheonan, South Korea, the day before his birthday