This week has been overwhelming.
I’ve had 2 presentations, one of which was for my Japanese course and which involved reciting a memorized speech in Japanese in front of Ritsumeikan student volunteers. I feel as if the course moves so quickly through every lesson that I barely have a chance to grasp a new concept before another one is introduced.
The Ritsumeikan student volunteers join us every day during lunch and I can say that, as a result, I have grown more confident speaking Japanese.
The program will be over in about one week. Being in Kyoto feels like being home and it will definitely be sad not to be able to continue to see its streets and people everyday. The first activity this week took place in Taizo-in Zen Buddhist Temple where we met a monk who took us through the history and practice of zazen, zen meditation.
Not surprisingly, I couldn’t concentrate. Essentially, we were told to clear our minds and focus on what we heard or what we saw in front of us, to contemplate that moment. I did what we were instructed not to do. I couldn’t help but go through my epic to-do-list for about 20 minutes. And felt just as anxious as before, if not more. It actually made me anxious that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear my mind.
Before leaving the grounds, where I photographed many a famous garden, I had help asking the monk how it was that I could achieve “thinking of nothing.” And he said it would take about 2 years of daily mediation of at least 10 minutes in order to be able to achieve such a thing.
He did not.
Though slightly discouraging, it sounded about right.
The promise that meditation offers is one that is hard to pass up. To have been able to look at, not just see, the garden in front of me and to have been able to listen to, not just hear, the drops of water echo as they fell from the wash basin would have been immensely rewarding. And it’s a shame I couldn’t.
Later, I found that most people experienced the same difficulty.
Although I was unsuccessful, it was a true privilege.
The other activities this week included a wadaiko (Japanese percussion instruments) workshop and a yukata (summer kimono) fitting.
The wadaiko experience was just as memorable. I ended up surprising many of my classmates with how fervently I participated. It was so fun to get carried away with the loud beating and chanting that my reservations dwindled and faded. I wish I could always be the person that the wadaiko experience brought out of me. Everyone joined in on a rousing performance and it was hard work to get it right within a group of three, but our best was more than enough for a crazy fun day!
I think most of my experiences in Kyoto have helped me be the most sincere to myself that I have ever been, and that feeling is incomparable. As my time in Kyoto nears its end, I find myself changed in many ways. I am one step closer to the person I want to be. I don’t feel as shy as I used to be before coming here.
Though I sometimes miss being around settings and situations that I am familiar with and feel capable of easily navigating, the independence and slight struggle of being in a foreign environment is empowering and fulfilling.
In the U.S. I have heard many people claim that open-mindedness and opinionated personalities are more valued than reserved, contemplative ones. My personality belonging to the latter kind, I have always struggled to relate to others and vice versa. I feel that in Japan, the consensus is much the same. Keeping to a strict schedule that starts at 7 AM everyday has been stressful. And it is made that much more tough when I feel isolated as I usually do in the U.S.
But my heart still swells at the sights around me, at the thought of all the memorable experiences I’ve had and the many lovely strolls I’ve taken through the Ritsumeikan campus.
I’m in Japan! And it will never be like this again. I’m happy with my life here. The toughest part of this experience will be seeing it end.
Bye for now…