Over the past year, I have been exploring the world with new eyes. I feel like I am 18 again, standing on the cusp of life, and the possibilities for my future are endless.
Following that desire to explore and learn is how I came to be standing outside the beautiful Elephant gate of Das Buddhistische Haus; the oldest and largest Buddhist center in Europe.
It took an hour by train from Berlin, and then a 20-minute taxi ride. As the taxi pulled away into the settling dusk of late afternoon Germany, I cinched my coat, and turned my attention to the large, wooden gate.
It stood slightly ajar, welcoming Buddhists and the simply curious. By stepping across the threshold, I knew I was making a statement to myself. But it was a statement I was ready to make. So, I took a deep breath, slid my hand across the smooth wood, and pushed the gate open.
I could hear wind chimes tinkling nearby as I ascended the 73 stone steps leading up the hillside to the temple. It felt oddly comforting and familiar, like going home to visit grandparents.
Picking my way across the sticks and stones that lay in the uneven paths, I wandered through the untamed gathering of trees, stopping to study a large Buddha statue.
Eventually, I came to the back of the building. There were two doors. One for the library, and one marked Meditation.
I was hesitant to enter the meditation room because I have only recently begun delving into this area. Up to that point, I had mainly done guided meditations in the privacy of my home. I didn’t want to disrupt, or look foolish.
Finally, I decided as long as I was quiet and respectful, it was unlikely anyone would even notice me. Worst case scenario, I could make a run for the train station, and they would never see me again.
I took my boots off, and entered the darkened room. Immediately panicking rather than waiting for my eyes to adjust, I grabbed a blanket, tossed it on the floor, and plopped myself down criss-cross applesauce.
It was quiet. It was peaceful. There was an interesting, but not unpleasant scent in the air. It occurred to me that some of the people around me might be the resident Sri Lankan monks I had read about. And then I had this moment when it fully hit me that I was sitting atop a hill in Germany, meditating with Buddhist monks.
Except I wasn’t meditating. I had forgotten that part, so I decided I better get down to business. I tried to remember what my Buddhist friend had told me. “Don’t focus on any one thing. Just let the thoughts pass through your brain. Thought in, thought out, thought in, thought out.”
It was harder than it might seem. My mind began to wander . . .
“Everyone else is sitting on cushions. I wonder if they brought their own?”
“I should have paid more attention to how I sat down. My left hip is starting to ache.”
Thought in, thought out.
“I wonder if it would be okay to scratch my nose?”
“There’s a whole stack of cushions.”
Thought in, thought out.
“Man, my hip is really starting to hurt.”
“Oh good! That man over there is stretching his leg. I’m going to shift my weight slightly.”
Thought in, thought out.
“Did that woman move her arm? I’m fairly certain I saw movement. I think it will be okay to give my nose a quick scratch.”
Thought in, thought out.
“I’ve been in here forever. It’s probably completely dark outside now.”
“I wonder how long I have to meditate before I can leave without making everyone suspect I’m a fraud?”
Thought in, thought out.
“Are all of those people getting up to leave, or is something else happening?”
“I’ll just casually walk out when they do. I didn’t plan to be here this many hours.”
I followed a handful of people back into the small lobby. No one made eye contact as they slipped into their brown Crocs, and I laced up my shiny silver boots with the faux fur trim.
Outside, I was surprised to see the remaining bits of dusk were just leaving the sky. I powered on my iPhone, eager to check the time and see how long my “meditating with Buddhist monks” experience had lasted.
Twenty-five minutes.
Thought in. Thought out.
Ginger is an author, motivational speaker, and mother of five. Follow her on Facebook (Ginger Claremohr), find her on the web: www.gingeretta.com, or contact ginger.columnist@gmail.com.