And then this bald old man whacked me with a stick

This trip has been nuts. Every day has been packed. We get up early and come back late. As a result, it’s been impossible to blog about all the places we been to– so I’ve been trying to pick out the better stories.

Here’s one:

My group is in Kyoto now. And I have to admit, I might be liking it more than Tokyo. While Tokyo is big and wonderful and busy, it really has that western, New York City feel. Not Kyoto. Kyoto is nestled in the mountains, full of old-style Japanese houses and shrines and temples and just beautiful, beautiful Asian architecture.

So we’ve been running back and forth from shrine to castle to palace to temple. And one of these temples was the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple, World Heritage site and popular tourist destination. We weren’t here just to look, though– our sensei somehow got us in with an American monk to try out a little meditation.

For those who aren’t familiar with Buddhist meditation– it’s all about, as far as I could tell from the guy’s explanation, emptying the mind. To release all thoughts, and simply exist. To go beyond what we think defines us– our life, our background, our memories, opinions– and find our true inner self, the one not defined by external influences. Buddhist monks go to some crazy extents to find enlightenment. They’ll sit for days, weeks, even, letting their mind go free.

Or, oftentimes, not.

It’s easy to lose focus during meditation. So, Zen Buddhism utilizes something called a keisaku, which is basically a big wooden stick, to help the monks along. When the monks meditate, there will be one dude walking around and looking for sleepy or distracted monks. And when this dude finds one, he will hit the mediator on the back.

He will hit you with a stick. 

I was a little nervous about Zen mediation.

But our monk, who often receives groups like us was very understanding. He declared that, during our 30-minute period of meditation, he would only hit us if we wanted him to. We’d signal him by clasping our hands together as he walked by.

And with that explained, we entered the temple and started the meditation.

No, Vy! Physical pain is not the issue! Empty your mind! Empty your mind! 

My mediation was not going so well. And then the monk walked by…

I opted out. I opted out! But getting hit is part of the Zen experience! How could I?! I resolved that, if he walked by again, I would volunteer to get hit. Which didn’t help my concentration at all, due to the fact that I’m a massive pansy when it comes to physical pain.

And finally, he walked by. I bowed, and allowed him to hit me with his stick…

The hits barely stung. And the monk hit exactly on some pressure points on my back, so when I sat back up, I actually felt more relaxed. Other students who got hit agreed with me.

Before I knew it, our Zen meditation ended. I didn’t reach nirvana, to be sure– but it was very relaxing. It definitely didn’t feel like a half hour. We also got a tour of the temple, and a special guest meal– as shown in the photos below!

So in my opinion? I’d gladly get hit by a stick again.