Things were still awkward, but I was trying to make the best of it and was successful at remaining positive towards the end of my time there. A large part due to my therapist, Margaret, and my messages I believed I was receiving from my angels. I would do free angel card readings daily and keep an eye out for numbers that seemed to be repeating themselves to me.
Around the same time Stacy and Lauren started carpooling into work together. I wanted to warn Stacy about Lauren. She was young and naive and always positive although she too seemed to have better boundaries than I had had. She was still new and maybe I could say something like be careful around her, but decided against it. I couldn’t help but think that Lauren had highly orchestrated this new relationship with Stacy.
One day everybody besides me was out on the landing doing a review of sampling protocol. I knew they were doing it and was excited to get the lab to myself. I looked out the window from my desk and saw them all out there. Lauren in her black over-sized Dropkick Murphy’s sweatshirt, Stacy and Kaulee nearby, Harold, and Erin and others. I noticed Kaulee talking with Lauren from behind my slender tall window and then Kaulee put her arm around her.
When Kaulee did that it made me feel ashamed. Lauren had won. She was getting the attention. She was feeling like the victim again. Kaulee didn’t see the evil inside her. She only saw poor Lauren acting like she had never done a thing wrong a day in her life.
But is that how I was when I was younger? When me and my twin sister were always vying over attention? A thought that shuddered through me that I immediately wanted to send back to whatever introspective hole in crawled out of. The world offers you a mirror. There are even exercises which I’ve done by Byron Katie where if you are angry with someone you write down all the things you don’t like about them and then afterwards you switch all the her, they, or she’s to me or I’s.
As I am typing out this scenario to you that is what is in my mind. Maybe that is what I don’t want to accept about myself.
The rest of the day faded into black as I tried to appear happy at my decorated desk.
I had been applying to nanny jobs online here and there, knowing that if I got a part-time job that I would be able to do part-time for the water lab as well. I was writing poems for a big poetry contest that I found online as well, so that kept me busy and preoccupied with what could be taking up space in my mind.
A mother of a nice family messaged me one day from Care.com and wanted me to come over and meet her family. I met with them and they decided to hire me on with their girls working 3-6 every day. I was ecstatic that I wouldn’t be at the lab as much.
One morning I woke up with a strange feeling that I would find something important online that day. By the time I had gotten to work I had completely forgotten the feeling and I was messing around online. I remember searching on Google about guided versus non-guided meditation. I had been doing a lot of guided meditation and felt like it probably wasn’t the best and knew that I should get back into my non-guided routine. I happened to scroll down to the bottom of the page and saw a program named Woodenfish advertised. I clicked on it and saw that it was a program for students or people of any age with an interest in Buddhism to travel to China and live in a monastery and learn about Buddhism. A seven-day silent meditation retreat was included. The program explained how hard it was to get into. You had to send your transcript and a cover letter about why you wanted to be accepted into the program. I sent in a cover letter.
Time had passed and winter was gradually turning into Spring when I got an email from Woodenfish explaining how I had been accepted into their Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Me out of all of the people that applied, accepted. The thought of actually going and disrupting my life for something so out there terrified me. What if I came back with no job? What if it was all for nothing?
I told my therapist in my weekly meeting how I had been accepted to the program. I told her I didn’t know what to do and she agreed that it probably wasn’t the best timing seeing as I had only recently started nannying. She could see the disappointed look on my face and asked me what my heart told me to do. I told her that I think it wanted me to go. Just like that, in a blur, I had decided I was going to China. I had never done anything like this and was even surprised at my own self. I knew that it would be good and restorative for me. Plus I had four thousand dollars in the bank from a heavy tax return that I could use on the ticket over there.
I arrived in China and was immediately overwhelmed. I was shown where my room would be and saw that there was only a raised platform with four sections with bamboo mats sewn into the platforms. These were our beds. The amount of people in the group overwhelmed me and my sudden loss in all confidence consumed my thoughts.
The first week felt like a lifetime. I hugged my travel pillow at night like it was a beloved stuffed animal.
I gradually remembered not to give myself any unrealistic expectations. That I didn’t have to make a million friends like I saw everyone around me doing. I craved the meditation but at first, it seemed like there wasn’t enough of it. Three hours in the mornings were dedicated to learning about Buddhism from esteemed men who had either doctorates or were postdocs from fancy schools.
I lived for Dharma talks with Venerable Yifa, the nun who started and ran the program from Taiwan. She was a short woman about 4’11”. She was always dressed in a golden bright long robe, with the most comfortable looking socks on that I had ever seen and donned a freshly shaved head. She was brimming with wisdom and a genuine peace of mind and love. She instantly became my new role model.
She reviewed the eight vows Buddhist monks and nuns take and live by. I quickly learned that she had quite the sense of humor. She began talking about cultivation and how things that are challenging in life are meant to cultivate us into who we are meant to be. She explained how cultivation leads to awakening. Well I had been cultivated, now I was ready to commit to my awakening.
She said that if you become more capable you are then more capable to help others.
She ended her first talk saying that most people, when she asked why they decided to do this program, couldn’t give her straight answer. She looked right into my eyes peering at her from the front row mysterioulsy. A sense of knowing immediately came over her. She exclaimed how it took a lot for each one of us to be there and that we could be doing a thousand other things with our summers. She con but then when she asks why they came they can’t answer. Each time she looked at me she connected directly to my eyes.
Time went on in China. Each day I took in the vast mountain views I was surrounded by and the loud cicadas that filled them. I walked down to the main shrine every night under the stars in a single file line to bow to the giant Buddha statue and sing songs in Chinese to honor him and his teachings.
We met the abbot of the temple which is the head monk who lives at the monastery. He wasn’t an old man and he had a young soul. One morning he gave us a lecture instead of one of the three esteemed colleagues. He spoke to us about the good in the world and about Buddhism, rich versus poor and unhappy versus happy. He said he had been to America once and the vegetables were good but that they didn’t use enough oil and salt. He said in order to change your life attitude you need first a high level of wisdom and second an ability to observe yourself, and I couldn’t agree more. He told us how we all must have great good fortune and good karma for the ability to come to his temple. That the chances of coming there were so small.
He went on to say there is a lot of information in the soul and how he believed in the soul. And how we don’t make the decision about whether our feelings are true or false. He said that in order to be happy we merely need to listen to our own bodies and what they are telling us.
He used an analogy and said to turn your head back to this side of the river, meaning look at yourself. Saying there was no boundary if you looked outside yourself, but inside your ship is right there. Instead of regretting all the time, if you regret all the time you still feel numb, but you can build yourself from the inside you will find success.
He then went on to explain monitoring and dealing with your feelings much like I have heard in the book that I had already mentioned, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. He said to accept the feeling like a guest, paying attention to it. He said that we are all responsible for our own feelings and we need constant dialogue with them in order not to be lead by it. All the feelings we invite, he said. He said that wisdom and happiness are the only things we should strive for in life.
As I was re-reading the words from the Abbot of Jin’E Temple I was struck by the knowledge that I could be listening to my body better at this point in time. I noticed a feeling in my heart but I didn’t know what to name it. I used my little book of emotions to pinpoint what it was. I flipped through the pages blindly until I got a feeling to stop at a certain page. Each page has a certain emotion on it. Panic popped up off the page at me with a corresponding image of a scary looking jail cell. I paid more and more attention to the panic sensation. There was a deep well of it. I even used my emotional freedom tapping technique where I focus on the panic and tapped pressure points in my face and in my collarbones and under my arm. I tried my best to keep a positive mindset, telling myself that I was listening to my body, even though at moments the panic felt overwhelming. This. This is the hard work I’m talking about. It is what we must do if we want to find happiness. We first need to acknowledge what is already taking up that space in our hearts.