I recently wrote an essay about an experience I had in Asia as an entry for an amateur travel writing contest. Unfortunately, my piece was not selected as a winner. I put a good deal of effort into writing it and received great revisions from some skillful minds and in the end came out with a piece I’m quite pleased with. So, I thought I’d share it here.
A Buddhist Heart
“Don’t let your hands touch your body,” he said. “Just move them around the outside, slowly. Move the energy all over.” He held my wrist and helped glide my right hand through the air, just inches above the right half of my body. I was sitting cross-legged on the soft tatami. My back stretched up against the wooden pillar he had placed me in front of because my posture was “not good enough” without something truly straight to guide my spine. I continued to sit, eyes closed, sweeping away the air in front of my face with both hands and sending it down across both sides of my body: shoulders, chest, stomach, thighs, knees, calves, feet and back up again.
I was instructed to inhale deeply through my nose, taking in all the beauty in the world.
“Flowers, trees, birds, happiness. Breathe them in. You will be stronger. Now exhale slowly, all the bad things. Sadness. Watch me.” I lifted my eyelids and looked at him. Head shaved and dressed in a surgeon-scrubs-blue cottonjinbei, he inhaled deeply as he moved his hands
rhythmically through the air around his body. His eyes shut behind big 70s-style aviator glasses. He then opened his mouth slightly and exhaled the longest, steadiest, slowest breath. Minutes later he opened his eyes, “Your breath can go across the world and come back to you. In
Buddhism, the Universe is very big but your heart is just as big. The world, your heart, the same.”
Did he know? My first trip to Asia had my mind in chaos. The distance separating me from my world was like a lump of indigestible mochi stuck in my gut. This trip was a dream come true and yet it was making everything feel like a dream. “Am I really here?” I did as I was told. I
exhaled for a long time. My mind’s eye watched my breath go northeast, across the Pacific, over the mountains, the prairies, the lake, and around the table with my family, through the city with my friends. Then, I inhaled it all back into my newly-infinite heart, deeply. I became present. The distance became manageable, the mochi a little softer.
I opened my eyes and the cinematic mist had lifted. The man before me was a monk and we were inside a temple but this was no dream. It was his world and I was in it. He led us out of the temple and into the kitchen where his wife had breakfast on the table and the family’s
miniature dachshund waited, tail wagging. I sat down, famished. After all, my breath had just traveled across the world and back.