One of the pitfalls of traveling is the inevitable feeling of not enough. No matter how long the visit, how familiar the territory, how organized and efficient the itinerary, there is the lingering thought that something wonderful has slipped beyond our grasp. So we plan, we rush, we don't sleep, and we run ourselves ragged in a foreign city or rainforest, thinking that it's fun. And it is.
But there are places where time can pause, even for a mere moment, where your senses are startled by sheer beauty, and the vibrating pulse that is life seems ever more complete. For me, the Kyomizu Temple was such a place. Perched high on a mountain, it overlooked the ravishing vista of Kyoto from a network of beautifully crafted pavilions. Unchallenged was the main monastery protruding from the edge of the cliff. Here was a place to listen to the rustling of leaves, the budding of cherry blossoms, the rhythm of raindrops.
Here was a place to be.
Buddhist monks spend generations learning to meditate, to clear the mind of noise. In the absence of the rampant, wild monkey mind that gives rise to desires and greed, enlightenment is found. In the silence, we can find peace.
Yet even as I climbed this spiritual place, tourists are rushing, pushing, and dashing off to see another Unesco world heritage site before sunset. Some halted for a split second or two to take in the exquisite view, before the pressures of "seeing everything" overwhelmed them to take out a map or checklist. Admittedly, I was just like that yesterday. Or a minute ago.
An uncle from California had taught me to meditate once, but I abandoned it because who had time to sit around and do nothing?
As the sky turned gold and magenta, I allowed myself to stop. To stop going. To stop doing. To stop being busy. I understood that activity is a distraction, blinding me from the tumultuous storm inside. All this time, I'd been running from myself.
I heard myself breathing.
I saw the white flutterings of paper offerings, prayers to the beloved deceased, cover the temple like snow whenever the wind whistled.
I saw the sky transform; bold, definitive colors that marked the ending of the present day. I understood that while some things must end, my life will renew itself. Effortlessly, like the rising of the sun tomorrow.
The ancient Aztecs believed that night is synonymous with death, and that something must consciously be done to make the sun rise everyday. Their answer was blood and human sacrifice. While our twenty-first century perspective deems them foolish, we are just as foolish in our own world. Always trying to make things happen, to force things to happen, even things beyond our control. Such is the genesis of the quintessential control-freak, and there are many loose and active among us. (Myself included).
Let the night come. Let a certain part of yourself die. That is where healing begins.
I have never forgotten that sunset.