“Faith is like electricity. You can’t see it, but you can see the light”
Today was a field lab day for me… In the past, field labs were optional, but this voyage attendance is mandatory. For each class we have an 8-hour field lab, which is either on the first or last day of a selected port. It typically relates to the course in some aspect and we actually have to pay attention since we have to write a paper on our experience. A lot of students don’t like the field labs, since it takes away from traveling independently with friends or signing up for one of the SAS field programs. I totally understand, and some of the field labs aren’t that great, but at the same time, I feel like it gives a different experience that we all wouldn’t of had without the field lab.
My field lab was for Social Psychology and we went to a Buddhist temple in Kyoto and learned to meditate. I’m so glad that this was our field lab, since I have wanted to learn to meditate for a while.
Once we got to Kyoto, we walked down this rocky dirt path to the temple. There were some winter flowers in bloom and many locals watched us all take in the scenery. As we arrived at the temple, we were asked to take off our shoes. I love being bare foot, so I didn’t have a problem taking off my shoes to walk around the temple, but I love having the opportunity to respect their culture and learn about it just by taking off my shoes.
Just like all the other temples I saw yesterday, I walked in and saw this small garden with a few bamboo trees. I was filled with peace and relaxation, and I hadn’t even started meditating! We all walked into a room that had been built 400 years ago. I didn’t learn this until lunchtime, and like everyone else, I was shocked. This room was in fantastic condition. If I had to guess, I would have said it was between 10 and 20 years old, if that.
As we were all finding a place to sit in the room on these somewhat uncomfortable meditation cushions, and Atheist, Buddhist priest entered the room. He was our mentor for the day. He began by introducing himself and telling us what he was going to cover for the day: guide meditation, and the benefits of meditation—regulating your emotions, finding inner happiness, and self reflection. This was interesting since these were three topics that we were currently discussing in class.
After an introduction on how meditation worked, it was our turn to try. I really thought this was going to be a difficult task. I mean, think about it; trying to quiet your mind and focus on nothing expect your breathing. That sounds pretty difficult! But to my surprise it was fairly simple. I sat there with my eye closed and legs cross, breathing in through my nose and out my mouth. With the first breath I hesitated to let go of my bouncing thoughts. But with the second deep breath I let go of what was left. My focus was fully on my breathing, and nothing else. Anything that I started to think about, I acknowledged that I had become distracted and then refocused on my breathing. It definitely requires a lot of practice, but it was extremely relaxing…. I almost fell asleep!
Before our Chinese style boxed lunch, we were able to walk around the temple a little bit. The room I found myself in had three openings that over looked a Zen garden. I later learned that the garden had no focal point when looked at as a whole. When I looked at the garden from the first opening, It was a totally different view that the second and third opening and each opening had a focal point within the garden. It was really interesting experience and something that I hope I can recreate one day.
When I looked at the Garden as a whole, it was definitely beautiful. In the US, I feel like what makes a garden beautiful through different colors and the way everything blends through the yard. But in this garden, it didn’t matter how the few colors matched. There were gray stones positioned in spirals, a rusty looking granite light and bench, and trees with a few light colored flowers. The whole combination made the no focal point garden beautiful. It was a kind of beauty that I haven’t seen in the United States.
After a question and answer session with the priest, we headed back to the ship. Our tour guide left us with this: “Ichi-go Ichi-e” Translating to “One time (chance), one meeting.” I found this to be a perfect way to end not only our field lab, but also our stay in Japan. This was our first port, our first meeting with a different culture, but we will all hopefully have the opportunity to visit again and have another “One chance, one meeting” moment.
Also, I have become shipboard “famous”… A picture was taken of me while meditating with the priest that is on the SAS blog. Here is the link if you are interested in checking it out: http://www.semesteratsea.org/2013/02/07/zen-moments-with-a-buddhist-priest/